Techno File: Ministers U-turn on copyright proposals

THE UK government has modified its proposal to allow ministers to change copyright law without going through a full legislative process.

The move follows a campaign against the powers waged by opposition parties.

Clause 17 of the Digital Economy Bill gives the secretary of state the power to amend the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act in several ways, including giving the minister the general power to "make any consequential amendment, repeal or revocation of provision (whenever made) contained in or made under an act".

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Opponents of the clause warned it could give ministers the power to make substantial changes to copyright law without the degree of parliamentary scrutiny to which changes to the law are usually subjected.

Amendments proposed last week by Business Secretary Lord Mandelson create more detailed parliamentary scrutiny for any proposed changes to copyright law by using a "super-affirmative procedure", which involves a 60-day consultation period.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said the amendments would also create a threshold that had to be crossed before action was taken. The problems of copyright infringement that the clause was designed to deal with had to cross that threshold before the clause could be used, he said.

The proposed amendment says, after the secretary of state has concluded a consultation on his plans, he must make available to parliament an "explanatory document" on his plans, outlining the effect the copyright infringement is having and why the action being taken to address it is proportionate.

BIS said the changes were not a U-turn and it believed the ministerial powers were essential for the efficient combating of as-yet-unknown future methods of copyright infringement.

Google under fire in France

&149 A FRENCH government report published last week has recommended radical action to protect creative industries against the loss of income allegedly caused by the online consumption of music, books and other cultural products.

The report was produced by the head of auction house Sotheby's in France,; a former government minister and Patrick Zelnick, a music industry mogul who is record producer for President Nicolas Sarkozy's singer wife, Carla Bruni.

According to French newspapers, the report expressed concern that Google's dominance appeared to have driven down the cost of internet advertising, which, in turn, made it more difficult to fund cultural services online.

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The report recommends asking competition authorities to investigate whether Google is abusing a dominant position in the market for internet advertising.

The report has also recommended that the government introduce an additional tax for internet advertising of an extra 1 or 2 per cent for the biggest operators of online advertising systems.

The 10 million to 20m raised by this measure would help to fund some of the report's other measures, such as the public subsidy of a "music card", which young people would use to buy music at online retail outlets.

French reports said that Mr Sarkozy called for a "more accurate" tax of online advertising services.

Google has rejected the proposals and said it was already responsible for helping to create content in France.

"Google already supports content creation through partnerships with many French publishers and content creators," said Olivier Esper, the senior policy manager for Google in France.

"In fact, around the world, we distributed more than 4.2 billion last year to our partners, helping to fund great content creation.

"We don't think introducing an additional tax on internet advertising is the right way forward, as it could slow down innovation," said Mr Esper.

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"The better way to support content creation is to find new business models that help consumers find great content and rewards artists and publishers for their work."

The young person's music card would be funded partly by the online music industry, as well as by government and through a charge, the report said.

The card, worth 50, would create a "virtuous effect" by encouraging young internet users to visit legal online music shops, rather than engage in illegal file-sharing, it said.

President Sarkozy said the government would meet half of that cost and the card would be available by summer.