Yesterday, the Leeds branch of the Licensing Executives Society enjoyed a masterly presentation by Andrew Finfer on Technology Transfer and Competition Law. One of the issues that our chair, Liz Ward, raised in Q & A was the compatibility of restrictions regularly imposed by the recording industry with UK and EC competition law. Her point was that these restrictions were hobbling the development of an online market in digital products. In his answer, Andrew said that similar arguments were made in respect of the distribution of consumer electronics.
I waded in with the suggestion that the two markets were quite different in that consumer electronics had to be made and stored whereas any numbers of a perfect copies of a game, film or sound recording can be disseminated anywhere in the world within seconds. I added that if the film, video and games software industries imposed tight controls over the dissemination of their products it could be because they needed it. When I was starting out at the bar pirates had to make and store discs and tapes which meant that there were warehouses that could be targeted with search orders (Anton Pillers as we called them then) or consignments detained at the ports. That's no longer the case with digitization.
After I got back from the meeting I found a very interesting article on the BBC website entitled "Fears raised over digital rights". The article highlighted a campaign by the National Consumer Council and its associates in the BEUC and USA over digital rights. There seem to be the seeds of conflict there albeit that nobody will say so in terms - at least not yet. As Andrew said at the beginning of his talk yesterday, the aim of both competition policy and intellectual property law is to promote consumer welfare.