Tuesday 19 April 2011

Talking about copyright issues in education with the UK's Intellectual Property Office

If you’d asked me a year ago to describe my thoughts towards the Intellectual Property Office I would probably have used words like ‘distant’ and ‘unresponsive’. I’ll be the first to admit my frustrations with the IPO over the Gowers Review, seeing as I, like many of my colleagues, spent a lot of time constructing a response to the second round of consultations only to watch it disappear into a vacuum. Then the Prime Minister announced a review of UK IP laws last November. Some more cynical colleagues of mine felt little enthusiasm for this, as it looked like a complete disregard of the efforts expended by the Gowers Review and re-examined the same set of issues. But I was optimistic – this review was destined to be different, heavily evidence-based with a focus on growth and innovation.

No-one was more surprised than I when the IPO set up a Twitter account and a blog dedicated to the Hargreaves Review. Not only that, an entire area of the IPO website was devoted to the Review panel, outlining the scope of the review and the submission process. The panel proactively met with numerous stakeholders, blogging about their visits on the website. I was immensely impressed by the ways in which the IPO actively engaged with the public and by the transparency of the whole process, and my faith was restored.

A chance encounter on Twitter with members of the IPO during the recent BBC Radio 4’s ‘Unreliable Evidence’ show on IP (in which the IPO featured) led to an invitation to visit the IPO to meet the copyright team. To say I was excited is an understatement, as I’m sure those who know me will agree! The agenda for the morning was set out as follows: tour, meet communications team, meet business outreach and information centre teams, tour of Copyright and IP Enforcement Directorate, presentation to and discussion with the copyright team on key issues.

The day itself was a fascinating overview of how the IPO functions and the services it provides to businesses, creatives and the wider public. Matt Navarra, the IPO’s Communications Manager, was my guide for most of the day, and after a customary tour of the facilities we settled down at his desk to look at what was happening in the world. Some of Matt’s current responsibilities include managing the IPO’s Social Media Channels, liaising with broadcasters and journalists who want to run news stories or create TV/Radio shows about IP, internal communications, working on the Hargreaves Review, launching the new ‘Peer to Patent’ web tool, finalising the IPO’s World IP Day plans, and generally keeping close links with the Minister for Intellectual Property. I thought my day job was busy!

After dealing with a few urgent inbox items, Matt introduced me to the Information Centre team. This is the hub of the IPO’s communication with the public, where a team of call centre staff answer calls on IP from all over the country. Approximately 300 of the 9000 calls received every month were about copyright, which staff said provided some of the more challenging calls. The Sales and Service team provides paid-for services to larger businesses to deal with their licensing needs, IP questions and undertaking research on their behalf, such as patent searches. The IPO are keen to extend these types of services to cater for the needs of small to medium sized enterprises, as they recognise that smaller businesses are interested in these paid-for services too. The Business Outreach and Education support SMEs and the education sector in understanding and using IP; a key way in which this is achieved is through the holding of free IP Awareness events and other outreach activities across the UK throughout the year.

From the Information Centre we moved on to the Copyright Policy and IP Enforcement Policy Directorate (CED); here, small teams of about 3 people focus on specific areas, such as EU and International copyright and enforcement issues, managing the copyright legal framework, or focussing on particular issues such as the digital agenda. They continually monitor case law and policy issues as they develop both here and in Europe. Teams also cover civil and criminal enforcement policy in relation to IP. Steve Rowan (Deputy Director – Copyright and IP Enforcement) is one of two managers who head up this unit. He also appeared on the previously mentioned BBC Radio 4’s ‘Unreliable Evidence’ show about IP.

In a large seminar room, I was invited to present issues which I saw as key to the education and cultural heritage sectors to the copyright team – an extremely unique opportunity. I explained our frustration with inadequate or absent licence agreements, in particular to address the growing need for placing audiovisual material on Virtual Learning Environments to deliver courses to students in partner institutions overseas. I voiced our concern about the rising cost of licences from collecting societies, some of which are attempting to force us to adopt licences which we don’t need and which effectively make us pay a second time for content covered by independent electronic subscriptions. Contractual clauses limiting the provisions under copyright law are another big issue for education; it would be ideal if our legislation had a similar clause to the Irish Copyright Law preventing contracts from restricting what can be done under copyright law.

Unfortunately, time quickly slipped away (as it tends to do when talking about copyright!) and I wish I could have spent longer discussing each issue in more depth with the team. Before my visit came to an end I was able to speak on one further point: the practical problems that the education sector faces on a daily basis with the use of images in teaching. Schools and colleges regulated by Ofsted are required to use images in teaching, but there are very few teachers who know much if anything about copyright. A legislative solution to the problem would be ideal, but failing that a licensing scheme could work, provided that it was sufficient to meet the needs of the sector.

All in all, I had a very illuminating morning; I never realised how widespread the IPO’s activities were and how keenly they defend the interests of the UK legal system relating to IP. The team I met were fairly young, both in terms of age and length of time in post, but had a refreshing grasp on the complexities of copyright law and the issues involved. I feel more confident now that whatever the outcome of the Hargreaves Review, there is a team of people who are more prepared than ever to engage with the different sectors and who are capable of dealing with those sectors' specific needs. Everyone recognises that copyright law is in need of reform, and I remain positive that, legislative change or not, we are in good hands.

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(all views expressed are my own)


  1. A great blog even if i do say so myself! @mattnavarrauk

  2. Very informative. As co-founder of futurecopyright.com I'd love to explore further how solutions such as our site can assist with issues around copyright protection and licencing.

  3. Darryl - Matt (@mattnavarraUK) and the rest of the IPO team would be happy to discuss further with you, I'm sure!