The Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee has warned that what it calls the “extraordinary success” of the UK’s creative industries may be jeopardised by any dilution of intellectual property rights and the failure to tackle online piracy. The committee also “strongly condemns” the failure of search engine companies – naming Google in particular – to tackle access of copyright infringing websites.
The MPs said that online piracy, combined with proposals arising from the Hargreaves review to introduce copyright exceptions and a failure to strengthen copyright enforcement along the lines envisaged by the Digital Economy Act 2010, threaten the livelihoods of the individuals and industries that together contribute over £36bn annually to the UK economy and stated that it “cannot be allowed to happen”.
The committee has called for:
• A central champion of intellectual property (IP) in Government
• An increase in the maximum penalty for serious online IP theft to be increased to 10 years imprisonment, to bring it into line with the punishment for such offences in the physical world
• Much more evidence and scrutiny before any exceptions to copyright such as those envisioned in the Hargreaves review are applied – it says a private copying exemption for AV content is not justified
• Reforms to the income tax and tax relief systems to adequately recognise the freelance nature of much creative work
The committee also called on the Government to redouble efforts to ensure that the video games tax credit is approved by the European Commission and introduced as soon as possible. It said current delays are harmful to the industry
The chair of the committee, John Whittingdale MP, said: “Britain’s creative industries are of huge importance to our economy and as successful as any in the world. We are blessed in the UK with extraordinary creativity which is backed up by superb training in technical skills and a supportive tax regime.
“However, all this will be put at risk if creators cannot rely on a strong framework of intellectual property rights which are robustly enforced. The delays in implementing measures to prevent piracy in the Digital Economy Act are costing the creative industries millions of pounds with serious consequences for the wider economy.
“We very much welcome recent moves to obtain a voluntary agreement between rights owners and internet service providers to take measures to deter illegal file-sharing. However, if this fails to materialise, the Government must use the powers given to it by Parliament in the Digital Economy Act.
“In addition, we are very concerned that the Hargreaves proposals to introduce certain copyright exceptions may create loopholes and dilute the protection of intellectual property rights. We are unconvinced of the claimed benefits that will result and believe that at the very least they require much closer scrutiny with clearer definitions and more evidence in support.
“We are also unimpressed by Google's continued failure to stop directing consumers to illegal, copyright infringing material on the flimsy excuse that some of the sites may also host some legal content. The continuing promotion of illegal content through search engines is simply unacceptable, and efforts to stop it have so far been derisory. There is no reason why they cannot demote and ultimately remove sites hosting large amounts of illegal material from search engine results.”