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The Scottish Parliament claims copyright over my work. How can this be right?

By on October 11, 2010
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A couple of months ago, I asked if I should contribute to the Scottish Parliament’s enquiry into video game tax breaks.

I decided to contribute, and sent in a submission explaining why I opposed them. You can read that submission (and a dozen others) at the Video Games in Scotland enquiry page.

Which is what made this letter that I received on Friday so extraordinary.

Inquiry: Video Games Industry in Scotland

8 October 2010

Dear Mr Lovell

Thank you for your written submission relating to the Committee’s inquiry.

Once submitted and accepted as evidence, written submissions become the property of the Committee (my emphasis), and it is up to the Committee to decide the manner and timing of its publication or to authorise publication. If you wish to make your submission available to the press or to publish it elsewhere you should contact me and I will put your request before the Committee.

The Committee normally, though not always, chooses to publish the written submissions it receives. Written submissions may be published at an early stage via the internet or published at a later stage (in hard copy or on the internet) alongside the Committee’s report and the record of public hearings. If witnesses are called to a public hearing, copies of their written submissions will usually be made available to press and public at the hearing, and will thereafter be treated as in the public domain.

Please be aware that publication will include publishing individual’s names, and any personal references which are contained in the submission. This information will be on the internet and will be searchable. However, contact details will be removed. Should you consider part or all of your submission to be private and confidential, please contact us immediately.

Alternatively, the Committee may choose to make the written submissions available through the Parliamentary Archives. Material already published elsewhere, which is simply sent to the Committee for information (referred to by the Committee as ‘background papers’), will not normally be reprinted by the Committee.

I will ensure that you receive the press notices giving details of the inquiry’s progress, and a copy of the report and evidence once it is published.

If you have any queries please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely

I was totally gobsmacked. According to the Select Committee Assistant, simply by the act of sending an email to the Select Committee I automatically and irrevocably agree to assign my copyright to the Select Committee, such that they can prevent me from reusing my own work elsewhere.

That can’t be right.

Nowhere on the page where the Enquiry asked for evidence did they say that this was the case. Nowhere in the Copyright section on the website does it say this is the case. I submitted my proposal via email, so I can’t have been caught by what Dr Ben Goldace calls Bogus Agreements in a web form that I inadvertently accepted.

I don’t believe anyone should have the right to retrospectively declare that they own my copyright. I’ve written to the Select Committee to confirm if that’s what they really mean.

But what do you think? Is my interpretation right?

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve:
  • I replied on Friday, but presumably since the question has to go before the committee itself, it won’t be answered until the committee sits again. I’ve no idea how often they are sitting, so it could be several days.

  • My guess, having dealt with bureaucracy like this in the past, is that it’s gone through someone with mediocre legal knowledge/ability: they “assumed” one particular problem/threat, took legal advice against that, and never thought what would happen if that was then applied generally.

    I imagine the people setting the original rules have long experience of being leaned upon to NOT publish submissions that have been sent to them, or to ONLY release things after a certain date, or for submitters to let them write a report, then yank permission to publish, in an attempt to undermine the report itself.

    I doubt they considered the possibility that the public would have the temerity (or the interest!) to self-publish. I mean … that would cost lots of money, wouldn’t it? You’d have to print up copies, and hand them out in the street, or something? No? 😉 It’ll never happen! (…so they never considered the ramifications…)

  • Sam

    You should claim ownership of the wording of the letter they sent you, and sue them for breach of copyright.

  • It’s a good spot that this is Westminster Select Committee, not a Scottish Parliament issue. Ire duly redirected.
    I agree with your point that by submitting the proposal to them, I was conceding elements of my own copyright: i.e. I implicitly accepted that they would have the right to republish my original work, which they duly did in the Parliamentary record.

    But like you, I thihnk it is bizarre, and not a little dishonest, to say that they can no prevent me from reposting it to my blog.

    I very much hope they respond to me. How long agao did you ask for permission to put the content up on your blog?

  • First off: it’s not the Scottish Parliament who is doing this. It’s a Westminster committee, formed of MPs (not MSPs). So ire should be directed to the right institution.

    I also submitted a response to the enquiry, and was surprised to receive the response talking about submissions becoming the property of the committee. Especially since I had re-posted my submission to my own company blog shortly after I sent it to the committee. I’ve since taken it down, pending a request to the committee itself to confirm that they don’t mind. Annoying, but not something that truly bothers me.

    My submission was purely an opinion, based on my own interpretation of the policy and the Scottish games industry in particular. So to say that my opinion has become their property is patently ridiculous. At the very most, it seems to me that by sending the submission, I implicitly gave away my right to stop them from using, publishing or distributing that opinion (in my name). Which is fine. I do that all the time by posting things on the company blog, it is a release into the public domain.

    I can understand a need for a government inquiry to be able to manage and release the information they’ve received, so that sensitive submissions with contents not to be released to the public can be handled properly. And that once made, submissions that have altered the findings of the inquiry cannot be retracted or prevented from being made public (because to do so would subvert the entire nature of a government inquiry). But to talk of property is just silly. To do so retroactively, only after the submission has been made, seems to me dishonest, and not in keeping with the civic spirit in which the submissions were solicited in the first place.