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UK IP advisor: Three-pronged approach needed

December 27, 2013

By Colin Mann

The Intellectual Property Advisor to the UK Prime Minister has suggested that in order to strike an appropriate balance between the interests of rights holders and those of consumers, a three-pronged approach to IP is necessary: education, the carrot and the stick.

Writing in the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s newsletter, Mike Weatherley MP, says that he faces a key question in his role: What is the right approach to maintaining IP rights and how should this be enforced? “Does it require government involvement, industry involvement or a mixture of both?” He says that a first step in addressing the issue is to examine the implications of both domestic and European reforms to licensing legislation. “This is a very complex matter encompassing many creative sectors, all with unique market issues, most of which are characterised by inadequate rights databases (even by the standards of an analogue age, let alone a highly digitised one) and different policies arising from conflicting European national interests,” he observes.

He contends that the creative industry must take responsibility for its failure to keep pace with the digital age. “Technology will always open up new ways to access content. If creators do not begin to embrace these technologies they will lose out, and by default, the market will be dictated by ‘open rights’ interest groups. The creative industry alone is responsible for not evolving fast enough. The music industry, for example, has spent years saying ‘no’ instead of ‘how?’,” he says, suggesting that the slow uptake of technology is just one area where the creative industry needs to re-examine its policies and beliefs, and that the creative industry also needs to advocate more aggressively for IP rights.

“Rightholders from across the industry need to wake up to the fact that they have a responsibility and a key role to play in shaping the on-going copyright debate. The industry talks to itself repeatedly and very effectively, but often fails to engage an outside audience,” he claims, but suggests that industry does little to ‘educate’ the general public about the advantages of IP protection, and has been losing the propaganda war.

He suggest that an efficient and plausible way forward would be to encourage the industry to provide simple, affordable and legal access to copyright-protected works. “The argument for legislation to enforce copyright protection is still there, but in discussing and implementing future EU directives the focus should be on how to protect copyright holders and their property, not on how to undermine output by increasing exceptions or by granting free access as advocated by some of the more extreme opposing views. This is the delicate balance that any good legislation must reach,” he declares.

In view Weatherley’s view, the way forward is to adopt a ‘three pronged approach’ to IP: education, the carrot and the stick. In terms of education,he says it is the job of industry and government to educate consumers about the importance of supporting IP rights. “By not paying for content, we simply encourage the production of poor quality content and help destroy a marketplace filled with a wide choice of diversified products. In such a scenario everyone loses. So winning this argument through ‘education’ is a critical first step,” he suggests.

When it comes to the ‘carrot, Weatherley says that industry must change the way it makes its products available to ensure that consumers can easily access content legally. “Proponents of piracy say downloading content legally is too complicated. Industry, therefore, needs to find innovative ways to ensure that content is easily available and in so doing make piracy a less attractive option. We need to let go of old dogma and identify and further develop new, workable solutions. The Film Industry’s multi-format license option for home use, for example, is an innovative compromise. We need to start embracing solutions like Spotify and, both of which have a one-off licensing model which is proving popular,” he recommends.

If neither ‘education’ nor ‘the carrot’ works, then there needs to be a ‘stick’, suggests Weatherley. “Government must back up industry by putting the necessary enforcement mechanisms into place. This would include holding Internet Service Providers responsible if they knowingly facilitate illegal downloading practices and do not take steps to stop this form of piracy,” he says.

He notes that the creative sector in all countries is a significant contributor to GDP. “To flourish society needs to reward those who create. The public needs to get behind the message that getting something for free (or below suitable price) for short-term personal gain, results in innovation and creativity floundering to the detriment of all. So it all starts with effective messages and education about industry’s position and the consequences of not getting the copyright policy framework right. Industry then needs to take a lead and give consumers what they want in a rapidly changing market. Industry needs to make sure the ‘carrot’ is attractive. And then, if all else fails, there needs to be legal support from legislators. The creative sector needs to show greater flexibility and to be part of the solution,” he concludes.

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