IPR Wars: fighters scrambled - is the truce over?

“Whitehall gives ISPs piracy deadline” was the Financial Times summary headline for the UK Government’s attempt to move the creative industries “from the margins to the mainstream of economic and policy thinking”


The joint DCMS BERR Green paper “Creative Britain: New talents for the new economy” may contain much that is welcome, although the ambitions for training and skills are remarkably modest, but it was the section on “Fostering and protecting intellectual property” that caught the headlines.

The actions are focussed on protecting past investment rather than stimulating new, UK-based, investment:

“We will consult on legislation that would require internet service providers and rights holders to co-operate in taking action on illegal file sharing …

The UK Intellectual Property Office will put into action a plan on intellectual property enforcement …

We will promote better understanding of the value and importance of intellectual property”

There is some modest funding, mainly from re-targetting RDA money to support creative clusters in the North-East (Sunderland University and Tyne Tees Digital City), North West (Salford Media City) and South West (Bristol) “.

Rather more important is “Commitment 19”, the announcement of a review into the barriers to investment in the next generation broadband without which any creative cluster will atrophy and die, cut off from its peers, let alone its customers.

However, that which is good in the Green Paper may well be dwarfed by the re-opening of hostilities between those seeking to enforce a copyright regime that no longer appears to command public support and those fighting to preserve the “common carrier” status of communications carriers, while opening up new streams of revenue in a “know your customer” world, .

Will the Green Paper be the ICT/IPR equivalent of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand?

The prelude to political, economic and legal trench warfare as mega-multi-nationals fight to eat each others lunch – their shares of the shrinking spend of western, recession-hit, consumers.

Will it be the equivalent of Russia’s shipment of nuclear missiles to Cuba?

A major scare that leads to messy compromise and twenty more years of Cold War, sporadic scares and skirmishes and minor players (countries) destroyed in proxy-fights.

Or will the pragmatic approach of China prevail?

China really does need global free trade, rather than protectionism (under whatever label), in order to grow itself, peacefully, out of its internal problems. And two of the UKs healthiest, emerging, creative industry clusters have anglo-chinese co-operation in skills development at their heart.

We are deluding ourselves if we look at the need to foster our creative industries in anything other than global context.

We are also deluding ourselves if we believe in our own propaganda and fail to look at ourselves as other see us: including appreciating and “looking after” those parts of our skillsets and industrial strengths that they respect and with which they wish to partner, not just take-over and export or copy as part of a bigger and better solution.

The Chinese are paying us the great compliment of copying much of what our ancestors did in the 18th and 19th centuries to “grow” the British Isles out of the revolutions and wars that wracked mainland Europe – while learnng from our mistakes and doing it better. Meanwhile I fear that some of the “Mandarins” of Whitehall have intellectual mind sets and ambitions akin to those of the Mandarins of the 18th and 19th century Chinese Imperial Court.

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If that noted technology expert Andy Burnham does go ahead with his plan to shut down the Internet in order to temporarily boost CD sales (which won't work, by the way, since the statistics clearly show that the people who download the most music are the people who spend the most money on the music business), then the whole "creative industry" will simply fade away as the rest of the world moves on.

I seem to recall that wool manufacturers, when sales were flagging in the face of cheaper competition 500 years ago, once managed to get a law passed to force the peasants to wear woolly hats to church on Sundays. This is why wool is such a vital industry today and such a large part of the UKs economic footprint in the world.

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