Campaign for Cambridge Freedoms

25 May 2004 - the Council of Cambridge University published their Third Report on Intellectual Property Rights. If these regulations are enacted in their present form, they will have a chilling effect on entrepreneurship and on academic freedom. They are up for discussion in the Regent House on the 7th June.

It is not much different from the second report, published on 26 March 2004. That went to a Discussion in the Regent House on 11 May 2004, where it attracted much adverse comment. The authorities then withdrew it for further consultation and redrafting. If you want to know why intellectual property rights are really important to academic and indeed cultural freedom, you could read Larry Lessig's latest book, or my detailed analysis of the first (2002) proposal. Even if you don't have time for that, you really ought to read the account by Mike Clark of how our research bureaucrats agreed, without his knowledge or consent, that he would submit all his relevant publications for vetting by a drug company that had licensed one of the University's patents.

The second and third IP reports are based on the report of the Cornish Committee, published in August 2003. This committee suggested much as I predicted they would back in 2002: that the University take only patent rights, as it won't be politically possible to take copyright too for the time being. This would still be seriously bad news for the University and for the wider economy. Nonetheless, the Cornish Report is still a damning indictment of how the University has managed IP over the last couple of years. There was a Discussion of the Report on the 21st October 2003, which showed that the mood of the Regent House was against even Cornish's compromise, and in favour of restoring our traditional rights.

The controversy has at least helped reinvigorate our democraic institutions. At the 2002 Council elections, both of the members elected in class b were pro-freedom (Ross Anderson and Martin Rees) while two of the four candidates elected in class c had also come out in favour of freedom (Richard Barnes and James Matheson) and the other two had declined to take a position. The openly pro-RSD candidates - John Bell and Jeremy Sanders - were both defeated. At the 2004 elections, the first and second elected candidates (Mike Clark and Bob Dowling) were pro-freedom.

Here follows the old 2002 CCF front page, which is pretty well as relevant now as then:


Freedoms at Cambridge University are under threat. A policy change proposed by the University's Vice-Chancellor will have a number of serious consequences for academics, for the student body and for the wider community.

Previously, the copyrights and other intellectual property rights in academic work at the University belonged (with a few narrow exceptions) to the people who did the work. The Vice-Chancellor's proposals will turn that round completely - everything (with a few narrow exceptions) will belong to the University. The consequences will include the following.

The Campaign for Cambridge Freedoms is determined to stop the Vice-Chancellor's proposals going through, if necessary by defeating them in a vote in the Regent House. There was a Discussion in the Regent House on the 15th and 22nd October, that was even reported by the BBC. One of the highlights was a speech by Tom Körner; we also received overwhelming support from Cambridge University Students' Union.

It turns out that Grace no. 6 of 30th March 2001 expropriates all intellectual property resulting from externally funded research in the University. This sneaked through without people noticing it. So it will not be sufficient to defeat the current proposals; we will have to repeal Grace 6 as well, will fully retrospective effect.

If these issues concern you, please reply to the consultation on the proposed changes being run by the Cornish committee. For background data on what other universities here and in the USA do, read our detailed analysis of the proposed changes, which also describes their likely effect on individual faculty members, students, departments, the University, the regional economy, and academic freedom; and you'll likely also want to read up on the history of intellectual property at Cambridge, and see our rebuttal of the arguments used so far by the Vice Chancellor's faction. There's also an ongoing discussion on ucam.change.governance. These resources should help you work out how the proposal will affect your own work, and will give you ammunition when discussing it with colleagues.

The members of the committee are:

There has been significant press coverage, including articles in the Observer, the Telegraph, the Cambridge Evening News, ZDNET, THES, the Wall Street Journal, the BBC and Varsity.

There is a mailing list you can join, and there is also some discussion of the issue on the ucam.change.governance newsgroup. (We also have our own Dilbert :-)