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You may have seen that there was a report published this month, Digital Opportunity: A Review of Intellectual Property and Growth. While most press reports on it have covered what it has to say about copyright - with good reason mind you, it's thoughful and frank - there were some other sections in it of significance to free software.

The report says that as the number of patents relating to computer programming increases, it's actually starting to impede innovation. Because of this, it doesn't recommend that the UK harmonise it's IP (sorry, RMS, for using this) with the EU in this regard as it believes allowing greater room for software patents would have a negative impact on the UK economy.

It actually says little more than what free software advocates have been saying for years - software patents are bad, they make innovation difficult and development risky for small development teams.

What's great is that this is the official advice that's now being given to the UK government. Now let's see what the government does with the report...

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Your comments

Pretty cool. But I don't

Pretty cool. But I don't trust our current government to do anything.

Who's law?

The BBC reported:

"One of the key changes it recommends is to legalise format shifting for personal use - the copying of CDs or DVDs onto digital music players or computers."

How will any changes in UK law change the terms and conditions imposed by overseas software firms or publishers of ebooks?

"the setting up of a new agency to mediate between those wanting to license music, film and other digital content, and rights owners"

Why? Other that a revenue stream for the UK government.

It is still legal in the UK for firms to send out threatening letters demanding money without proof of wrongdoing to downloaders.

What if firms such as Microsoft took this route to enforce patents and suppress rivals by going after users of Linux?

The goverment should watch...

The goverment should watch the documentary "Pantent Absurity" by fsf.

Step foward

Didn't read the whole thing but the bit about researchers and educators being limited by the law is so true. I tell you as a collective mankind is a bunch of morons. We have so many issues such as disease, famine, environmental disasters etc that has plagued us for years, however we are to busy making tablets and phones and suing each other over them to focus on the human side of things.

Copyright should be exchanged with Copyleft

Richard Stallman (of the Free Software Foundation) had it right (or should that be left?) the first time, when He spoke of Copyleft rather than Copyright Laws when everyone was shooting themselves in the foot and impeding the civil liberties of innovation. Aside from Bill Gates' multi-billion dollar empire, what has the man got to look forward to other than tinkering with bits of radio gear in his bedroom (we geeks all did that - but Bill put a price tag and an intellectual restriction on everything he did) So what's new?

Reply to Tom Green

Tom,

my understanding of this, and admittedly my understanding is limited, is that firms such as Microsoft couldn't use threatening letters to enforce patents in the UK because software isn't patentable here.

The point of the post was that this report has recommended to the government they not allow software patents, contrary to the recent direction taken by the EU. This is a good thing, as it will help avoid a situation like you describe here.

Also, the new agency that you mention appeared to be one that would help to deal with the problem of orphan works - it's main goal didn't strike me as profiteering but actually trying to solve a serious problem that faces many creators - independent or otherwise.

Finally, the report recommended legalising format shifting through an exception to copyright law, along the lines of fair dealing as it stands now but extended to take this and other scenarios introduced by recent technological changes into account. As it would be an exception, explicitly allowing this kind of activity, I don't think overseas software firms would be able to change this no matter what terms of use they introduced - unless you're taking a 'code is law' kind of perspective.

On all this I could be wrong, but I would recommend reading the report itself as the impression it leaves is quite different to a lot of the press reports - being thoughtful and full of commonsense observations.

Reply to Tom Green (2)

Hi Tom,

You are mixing many themes in your comment I will try and break a few down for you.

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"How will any changes in UK law change the terms and conditions imposed by overseas software firms or publishers of ebooks?"

The terms and conditions you are likely referring to are contained in a licence. When purchasing software you are not purchasing actual physical access to it, rather the rights to use the software (the licence). The licence is designed to protect the vendor's interests in the software from abuses by the end user.

In contrast software patents don't protect the interests of the vendor rather they create an interest that needs protecting by the licence. If software patents were not a part of English Law then the effects of their existence would not be possible, as they wouldn't exist. If a licence did reference software patents then that would be ignored by the courts as it is not enforceable. Usually terms to look for in the licence are "in so far as is enforceable by Law" and Severance provisions.

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"It is still legal in the UK for firms to send out threatening letters demanding money without proof of wrongdoing to downloaders."

It sounds as though you are discussing piracy which is a separate issue as piracy can occur without software patents. Threatening letters are sent to downloaders for copyright infringement. This is not a cross border issue the copyright holder will bring an action in the country where the act was committed.

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On a further note most questions regarding "Whose Law" stem from cross border contracts. For an EU wide approach look for "Brussels Regulation" and "Lugano Convention", these span most of Europe (real and Union).

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