Mike Weatherley was until recently the Intellectual Property Adviser to the Prime Minister, and is MP for Hove and Portslade

We are all aware that piracy of creative ideas exists – be it downloading music tracks from the internet without payment, buying knock-off DVDs or wearing a fake Rolex. The question is: how do we stop it? Before we can answer that fully, there is a further question asked by many: do we actually want to stop it?

The reality is that a significant section of the population is downloading free and illegal music regularly, and their answer to that last question is: No!

I was at a University last week, and asked the students who has downloaded a free – and illegal – track during the last month. Just about 90 per cent said yes. When asked who of those peope thought that they were helping to contribute to the downfall of our creative industries, only about a third kept their hands up. This admittedly non-scientific experiment showed that (a) that third just didn’t care about the consequences, and that (b) the other two-thirds hadn’t thought through the consequences.

The UK is an Intellectual Property (IP) rich country: we are an IP-exporting economy. Our creative industries, technology businesses and service sectors, plus many others, are all underpinned by intellectual capital. IP even helps to pay for the services we all treasure – there is a direct link between the quality of our NHS and having respect for our creative industries.

We are only one of three countries worldwide that are net exporters of music: if we lose the revenues from overseas earnings, or our creative industry shrinks from the many hundreds of thousands that it employs currently, our only options to maintain services will be to raise taxes or borrow more – neither of which we are in any position to do. The importance of creating, respecting and promoting IP for both inward and outward investment could not be greater.

My role over the last year as IP Adviser to the Prime Minister has reinforced my view that tackling IP-related infringement is a complex and multi-layered challenge. There is no single answer. I have been clear from the outset that I believe all solutions must be guided by three main principles:

  • Education – winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of consumers about the importance of protecting IP.
  • Carrot – industry must change their models to be attractive to consumers.
  • Stick – when all else fails, enforcement. This includes wider issues about compliance as well, for example what the Internet Service Providers (ISPs), Search Engines, Advertisers and banking sectors can do to assist with compliance.

My previous reports on the responsibilities of Search Engines, together with my ‘Follow the Money’ paper from June, addressed where immediate action is necessary. For this latest report, Copyright Education and Awareness – which was my final contribution as IP Adviser – I returned to one of my guiding principles and perhaps the most important: IP education. Together, we need to reinforce on the public the importance of respecting IP and paying a fair price for content.

Whilst this discussion paper is focused solely on copyright, the principles and recommendations included in it are intended to be relevant to all areas where IP is important – which also includes patents, trademarks and designs. However, given that most consumers’ and citizens’ regular engagement with IP is through copyright, I have focused on copyright and the creative industries for the purposes of this report.

I have made ten recommendations in the report. The first and most important is that all the current projects to inform and educate by both industry and government should be coordinated into an effective combined strategy. This is probably best done by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), but industry has a duty to provide personnel to assist.

Among the eight other recommendations are:

  • Measure outcomes of education projects so we know what works and what doesn’t;
  • Use schools and Further Education classrooms by putting IP into the curriculum;
  • The BBC should produce IP programming;
  • Users need good access to information about legal routes;
  • A fund should be established to help educate through businesses and technology;
  • The IPO should be charged with the responsibility to report progress each year to Parliament and others.

The tenth recommendation is possibly the most contentious one – that the UK should appoint a US style IP Coordinator or ‘Director General’. This is not to replace the role of IP Minister, but to support coordination between departments, industry and the public, driving new initiatives outside of what the current remit is.

In summary, my analysis has reinforced my view that, despite the efforts of rights holders and their representatives, there remains too little understanding and awareness (or respect) of IP especially amongst younger consumers. Education is essential in addressing these knowledge gaps and, in turn, in establishing the benefits and importance of IP to creators, consumers and our economy as a whole. We must particularly focus on younger people (although not exclusively).

With government and industry recently agreeing to allocate significant funds for a public copyright education campaign, the time is ripe to explore how we may work more effectively and cooperatively in this area. Greater coherence and coordination between industry, government, academia and all other relevant stakeholders in order to deliver an effective positive message about the importance of IP to all our benefits is my goal.

Copyright Education and Awareness can be read in full here.