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Mike Weatherley is the Intellectual Property Adviser to the Prime Minister and MP for Hove and Portslade 

In a speech I made recently in Parliament, I wanted to underscore the importance of the creative industries to the British economy and how, without protecting Intellectual Property (IP), we are putting an important revenue stream in jeopardy.

The creative industries contribute a staggering £71.4 billion added gross value every year to our economy, which is one big reason why IP needs to be taken seriously. If you value the NHS, you should also value IP and our creative industries, as together they help pay for the services in this country that we all cherish. If we take the wrong approach, national services that we take for granted will have a huge budget shortfall.

IP is now very much consumed online and attitudes to illegal downloading are slowly changing, which has in large part been due to the industry finally offering people what they want. Spotify and Netflix are two great of example of game-changers for both music and film. Unsurprisingly, other companies are replicating these successful business models (Bloom FM and Amazon Instant Video spring to mind) and consumers are flocking to sign up.

That said, there is still a huge problem with downloading from sites hosting illegal material – many of which are registered outside the EU. One issue that I have felt that I have needed to highlight again and again was that if we can stop sites profiting from hosting copyright-infringing content, then people will stop providing the material, which is why targeting advertising revenues is key.

‘Follow the money’, therefore, has been a central part of my fight to help reduce IP crime. If we stop advertisers from shovelling money into illegal sites, we can stop a lot of the content. Possibly as much as 95 per cent according to the newly formed national Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU). I have been particularly impressed with PIPCU, who are currently pursuing a number of interesting projects that should curb the availability unlicensed films, TV programmes and music. I am currently encouraging the Prime Minister to formalise their funding.

In order to gauge stances on IP abroad, I have engaged with a number of Ministries around Europe over the past few months to discuss how the protection of IP is being addressed by our counterparts. All in all it has been an interesting experience, but discussions with Swedish, Danish, French and other EU ministers, for example, have made me even more convinced that Britain needs to be the international leader of IP rights protection.

The Government clearly recognises that specific parts of our creative industries need nurturing, which is why the most recent Budget included a boost for UK film industry, as a number of positive changes were made to Film Tax Relief. More details are available here. This is in addition to previous budget announcements for software incentives and help for our live music exports.

In order to help raise IP amongst some of my parliamentary colleagues, I launched Rock the House, which is now Parliament’s largest competition, and raises awareness of the importance of protecting IP rights by primarily engaging young musicians. Entrants send their original material to their MP, who ultimately nominates one entrant per competition category. It certainly won’t change things over night, but it’s certainly helping to highlight the issue in Westminster. The project looks set to now be rolled out worldwide – USA, Australia and the EU all keen. The US Ambassador in London has even offered his residence to host the launch party!

And ‘IP matters’ goes beyond the music industry. At a recent event that I hosted in Parliament, the Federation Against Software Theft brought together a large group of software rights holders who are losing out every day to people simply taking their products for nothing. Generally, most people are law abiding citizens throughout their lives, yet something about the internet seems to blur people’s values.

Educating everyone about the value of IP is key and to this end I, along with the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), have been working with PRS for Music and around 30 other companies from the industry to form an education taskforce, with the objective to attend at least 100 forums a year to put forward the case for protecting IP.

On copyright generally, I was particularly pleased that the ‘exceptions’ resulting from the Hargreaves report were finally released. These changes to the law were certainly long overdue and the private copying exception, which allows individuals to copy content that they own (exclusively for personal use) to another medium or device, did not allow unrestricted copying, as many rights holders – and myself –  had feared, but supports legitimate personal copying. I very much see the UK stance on private copying as a flagship line in the sand that other countries in Europe should follow, rather than the wider definition of ‘friends and family’, which a number of countries have used, eroding the value of IP.

Thankfully, the message is getting through and we have managed to stop the ‘out of control juggernaut of IP rights’ heading towards ever more dilution, which would have been hugely detrimental to our vital creative industries.

Understandably, search engines play a big role in how illegal content is found online, so I am producing a report on Google for the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills on how I see that they fit into the picture. I know that Google are often portrayed as the ‘problem’ that facilitates copyright infringement, but Google are neither creating the illegal content, hosting it, nor the ones consuming it. They are part of the solution, however, and we definitely need to work together.

One last, controversial point: given just how crucial IP is to a huge part of our economy, I believe that – like the US – Britain needs an independent IP Tsar to champion the industries whose income relies on protecting IP and for the consumers who, ultimately, benefit from first-class films, TV and music. We have a fantastic IP Minister in Lord Younger, but I do think that there is room for a role for a person with an even wider remit.

With the Hargreaves exceptions cut back, the Government’s support for the creative industries, with real incentives for music, film and software development, is really starting to take hold. Combined with IP awareness events such as the international IP Enforcement Conference in June (hosted by the IPO) and the early successes that PIPCU is having, this is all good news. Most importantly, I am very pleased to say that in Parliament there is now a stronger overall acceptance that IP matters.

16 comments for: Mike Weatherley MP: We should follow the money to strangle websites that rip off others’ Intellectual Property

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