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Google’s copyright world war

Katherine Rushton | Feb. 18, 2013
The creative industries want internet giant Google brought to heel as battles about copyright protection heat up around the world

“Big US company in lobbying shocker! Big deal,” says Richard Mollet, chief executive of The Publishers Association. “The issue here is that the IPO isn’t testing the stuff [that Google claims], Google is feeding in thoughts to a group of academics saying how copyright should be – for them.”

Another publishing source complains of a “lack of rigour” in IPO assessments. Many in the creative industries claim that a blithe acceptance of Google-backed research has also found its way into the Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property, which is expected to form the basis of any future rewrite of copyright law.

The IPO, which commissioned Hargreaves’ review, said it was “not based on the views of one organisation. He spoke to businesses – large and small – consumer groups, lobby organisations and trade bodies … all of these are contributing towards making the intellectual property framework fit for purpose in the 21st century.”

But figures bandied about in various reports have caused alarm. “The financial analysis falls apart like a house of cards when you peer into it,” says one music source. The Creative Coalition Campaign (CCC), a lobby group representing the books, music, film and television industries, which claims their businesses are worth £36 billion to the UK economy and account for 1.5 million jobs, has written to the Intellectual Property Minister, Viscount Younger, to express alarm at the wildly differing estimates for the contribution to the economy certain copyright rules would make. The Hargreaves report valued them at £26 billion. The latest government report has them at £500 million. Both studies are “fundamentally flawed”, the CCC claims.

In private, the creative industries argue that Google’s supposed favoured status began in Number 10. David Cameron’s former director of strategy, Steve Hilton, is married to Rachel Whetstone, head of communications at Google. It handed Ms Whetstone a “hotline” to Number 10, opponents argue. Although the couple now live in California, that hotline is “still hot”, says one source. “But it doesn’t matter anyway, because the damage is done.”

The close relationship between Number 10 and the top brass at Google’s Mountain View headquarters has become the framework for all subsequent discussion, critics say. It was emblematic when, nearly a year ago, Downing Street was apparently so in tune with Google’s thinking that the company’s chairman, Eric Schmidt, and the Chancellor, George Osborne, published a joint leader in The Financial Times.

That may be uncomfortable for the government looked at through the prism of the past 12 months. Google has hit the headlines thanks to its tax arrangements – it paid just £6 million in UK corporation tax last year, despite generating $US4.1 billion of sales in the country.


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