“WOW, COOL!!!!” “OMGGGG how exciting!!” “Wooohoo! This is AWESOME! Thanks!!!“ “OMFG. OMFG. It is showtime baby!!!!” Rarely has a government document been so eagerly awaited by photographers as the just-released Gowers Review Of Intellectual Property.
Of course the quotes above are nothing to do with Gowers: those are the reactions of iStock photographers to the news that they will soon qualify for a grown-up Getty contract. But hey, this is a government report we’re talking about here: we needed to do something to grab your attention.
The Gowers Review, flagged as the document that would drag UK intellectual property law into the 21st century, was a golden opportunity to advance and safeguard the interests of intellectual property creators, interests which are under daily and increasing attack.
Instead what was eventually delivered was classic New Labour: fiddling around to try and keep the principal lobby groups on-side whilst utterly ignoring the underlying fundamental problems and iniquities that confront the rest of us – and along the way perverting the entire concept of copyright into a system of aggregation by force majeur vs. consumer theft. Nowhere in the review is there any trace of understanding of the enormous gulf between business practices and the equitable intentions of law.
Perhaps this should come as no surprise. What more could we have expected from a man to whom business is big business, and who fails to make any reference to photographers or photography in over 100 pages? Photography does not exist, far less individual photographers, in Gowers’ calculations. He’s playing at a rarefied level of balancing corporate economic dominion against public good. Piggy in the middle individual creators are just cannon fodder in this titanic confrontation of grandiose interests.
We individual intellectual property creators simply do not appear on his radar screen. His attitude to our rights is that we hold them on sufferance, and only so long as they serve as an incentive to aid the consumer and the British economy. The concept that we have rights as intellectual property creators because we are the creators, and that we are entitled to exercise those rights in our own interests, is alien to him and the world of big business he is there to serve.
Given the conclusions he reaches it would be tempting to think that he was not made aware of the concerns facing individual intellectual property creators. But in fact a number of individual photographers, several photographers’ organisations and the National Union of Journalists all made submissions to Gowers. There’s no evidence in the report that he did anything other than wipe his bum with their work.
Gowers concludes by claiming that if the “Government accepts and implements the Review’s recommendations, the Review believes that the portfolio of measures will ensure that the UK IP system is fit for purpose in the digital, global age”. Fit for whose purpose? We are the creators: others steal our property. Nothing has changed: Gowers leaves us as defenceless today as we were yesterday, and has failed miserably to measure up to the challenge of bringing copyright law into the 21st Century.