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Intellectual Property and Digital Economy

In line with my previous theme of Intellectual Property (IP) and the digital economy, this post looks at a recent Position Statement which I helped to draft for the BCS Chartered Institute for IT.

As you may know, one of the core values or mission of the BCS is to advance the role of IT in bettering society, business, education and the economy, and what better way to do this than by suggesting ways in which IP could work better in the evolving digital economy.

Some key issues highlighted in the position statement include:

  • The rapid pace of technology change often leaves behind the Intellectual Property (IP) construct which was created to provide economic benefit for the creators, authors, inventors and owners of related IP
  • An enormous amount of money is spent annually on IP related litigation (particularly when IP is viewed and used as a tactical weapon). This could be better spent building the right system in the first place
  • According to BCS feedback from the 2013 Parliament and Internet conference, intangible and virtual goods online extend to more than just music, written word or software – I’m thinking about the Internet of Things too
  • Also, The EC announced an initiative to define a position on taxation of the digital economy – this gets very interesting when you try taxing something like Bitcoin!
In light of such issues, the BCS position tries to define the best approach to tackling these and other major issues, as well as providing a sense of perspective to the unfolding drama of IP and digital economics. Key messages from the Position Statement include:
1. Global IP must evolve to meet the needs of a digital age global economy, particularly with regards to:
  • Creating a feedback mechanism to regulate the impact of IP changes on the digital economy, in a transparent manner.
  • Developing fast, automated and dynamic IP mechanisms to cope with blurring boundaries of IP (e.g. for emerging trans-media content), and surge in high-volume / low-value transactions online.
  • Keeping everything in context, because society is still at a very early stage in understanding and adapting to changes introduced by digital technology – digital IP is in a period of transition without any appreciable end state to speak of.

2. BCS understands the need to ensure all 5 digital stakeholder groups (i.e. the creator, commercial, consumer, technology and governance stakeholders) are consulted, engaged and involved in the creation of digital IP structures for the future. BCS has representative groups and forums that cover all 5 stakeholder groups of interest.

3. The UK is in a great position to play a leading role in helping define new digital IP measures and structures for the digital economy – it has the capability and resources, economic motivation and political appetite, as well as the credibility to build on its historical provenance for introducing far-reaching IP mechanisms e.g. Statute of Anne (aka the world’s first copyright law).

In conclusion, I believe this is a fairly sensible position in what is ultimately a moving feast of change for society at large. However, there are no foregone conclusions on how digital IP will play out in the long run, no least because everything is still up for grabs as the debate rages on.

Ps. I will be looking to carry on this conversation at the Copyright and Technology 2014 conference in London on the 1st of October, where I’ll be chairing a panel debate on the Challenge of Online Piracy. More on this soon…
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