Nigel Adams is MP for Selby and Ainsty and a member of the All-Party Group on Intellectual Property
In asserting our place in the world outside the European Union, Great British creativity will not only be important for driving economic opportunity but also for projecting our soft power. Today, I set out the importance of intellectual property to the British economy in a debate in Westminster Hall alongside colleagues from across the political spectrum.
The nation that gave the world Bowie, the World Wide Web, Grand Theft Auto, Harry Potter and the bagless vacuum cleaner has never had a problem in generating ideas. Where our musicians, writers, designers, brand owners, film makers, games makers and journalists need the help of government and colleagues in Parliament is in ensuring that they can capitalise on their creativity and talent. We need to make sure that their investment in study and innovation – and in the content that they generate from it – can be realised, whether this is the hours put in by the budding songwriter in her bedroom, the years of training that a great athlete or a fabulous instrumentalist puts in to deliver the performances that thrill so many people via sports and arts broadcasts, or the huge financial investment that makes it possible to create the quality British dramas and films that are attracting audiences all over the world.
We have a well-respected legal framework for intellectual property protection in the UK but new challenges are emerging all the time, whether digital TV piracy, online substitute selling or designs being copied and then sold from abroad. Legislation can help protect against these challenges but legislating takes time. I’m proud, however, that our Conservative government is finding new ways of helping our creators. Intellectual property is a major area of legislative competence that will be returning from Brussels to Britain when we leave the EU, and therefore I am advocating that we get started with determining how best to legislate in this area now, rather than later.
Firstly, we have a real understanding of people and how they want to consume content. Rather than a tone deaf, punitive approach, the creative industries and major internet service providers launched the Government-backed “Get it Right from a Genuine Site” education campaign. It takes a whole new approach to reducing online copyright infringement and making sure that people are aware of the great variety of authorised sources that are available to them. On one side, Get It Right’s communications and advertising tracks demonstrate how much time individual people in creative industries invest in preparing and delivering their art. On the other side, while awareness is being raised, ISPs are sending out educational emails to internet account holders if their accounts are associated with illicit file sharing. These emails inform people about where they can find legitimate content and advise them how to protect their network security. The Get It Right campaign recognises the reality that, while people fundamentally value creativity, time is precious and turning good intentions into actions can hinge on how easy it is to access content legally. It also takes account of the fact that not every mum and dad is always across what their home broadband account is being used for.
Secondly, we are seeing the Government using its influence to fill the vacuum between fast-moving internet and slow-moving legislation. Last week a ground-breaking deal – a world first – was agreed between the creative industries and search engines, Google and Bing, to collaborate to reduce the likelihood of links to infringing content appearing at the top of search results. It took a while to get there, but I hope it can set a model for other internet companies to take their share of the responsibility, particularly with emerging threats such as online retailers that show pictures of well-known brands and products but then substitute them for lesser known brands when they are delivered. Like the Get It Right campaign, the agreement with search engines has begun on a voluntary model, with a characteristically British pragmatism as the creative industries, internet service providers and other actors in the internet ecosystem work together with the Government to guide consumers towards legal sources and reduce copyright infringement.
The UK’s creative economy accounts for seven per cent of our GDP and involves a range of different industries including design, music, film, software, manufacturing and publishing. Throw in the enormous value of brands, trademarks and patents and you realise that the economy as a whole – and so many people’s careers and livelihoods – depend on it. I am tired of hearing some version of the same story told to me over and over again by artists I meet: that they’ve written a song which has millions of views and they’ve seen a princely £6 or so in revenue. People won’t be able to continue producing, much less mentoring the next generation of potential creative talent, under those conditions.
The creative industries are the fastest growing sector of the UK economy and have international appeal. They will become ever more important as the UK seeks a new trading agreement with the European Union and other countries following the UK’s exit from the EU – no offence to budding Estonian singers and sports people, but our leaving the EU won’t make their musicians more popular or cause their young footballers to stop dreaming about playing in the Premier League. We should also use the negotiation of new trade agreements to encourage other countries to improve their IP legal frameworks and ensure those laws are enforced to protect our UK creators’ IP. We need to recognise the imperative to protect great IP in physical form, whether by strengthening our borders to prevent counterfeit, and often harmful, goods from entering the UK or by ensuring that trading standards and the police have the resources to tackle serious organised crime that profits from these activities.
There is still much more to do to ensure that creators in all fields – and the armies of people whose jobs sit around the creative process – are fairly compensated for their work. However, the partnerships that are being formed here in the UK to tackle these issues could be a blueprint for the world in providing security to the people who create the content that keeps us entertained and feeds our world-beating digital industries.