We’re discussing the impending World IP Day on 26 April and he’s explaining how the copyright cause has changed even in the two years since he became chairman of the alliance.
‘I don’t think it should just be about looking at what’s in the law and acting upon it,’ he goes on. ‘One of our major collective and individual policy points is that internet intermediaries, and search engines in particular, should do more to tackle infringement without either side having to troop off to the high court.’
The alliance has a wide-reaching and effective agenda, with contacts and influence where it counts. As a coalition of 23 associations, its strength lies in creating a common voice which is committed to ensuring IP rights receive the protection they need and deserve.
Its members are vocal about creators’ rights and work hard to ensure their voices are heard around the UK from the bottom up.
PRS for Music and UK Music are both members of the alliance, and are actively involved in the education and promotion of copyright policies the alliance organises at both parliamentary and local government level.
Read our full interview with Richard below to learn more about the work of the alliance and the current copyright climate in the UK.
You’ve been chair of the Alliance for Intellectual Property for two years. Has the focus changed since you took office?
We’d been previously known as the Alliance for IP Theft since its inception in 2002. That’s because it had been focused on tackling copyright infringement in all its forms. While that remains a very important focus for us, we wanted to pivot a little. As well as tackling infringement we’re also educating policymakers on the importance of intellectual property and accentuating the positives rather than focusing on the negatives.
If you look on the alliance site you’ll see the IP map, which shows that intellectual property in the UK is not a Londoncentric industry. We wanted to show that it doesn’t matter if you are an MP for an inner city seat in London or indeed Scotland, or the North East or the South West: you have an IP business on your patch – that is to say, business which is reliant on IP for its jobs and growth.
We’re also about to launch our manifesto on Monday (28 April), with an eye firmly on the general election next year. We’re very keen that all of the main parties have an understanding of the importance of intellectual property rights and we’re looking for pledges from them to ensure it is recognised across their policies.
What response have you had from MPs at both grassroots level and in government?
It tends to be very positive. We all do this individually as organisations and trade associations, and also together as the alliance. I think it’s very difficult these days to have an argument in parliament about intellectual property – there are very few people we need to convince. Sure, there are people we need to educate, but that’s a different thing.
It’s difficult to get a debate going where people say they don’t think copyright is important. And that goes from grassroots and the back bench right through to the front benches and the ministers.
You mentioned the need to educate people about IP – can you tell us more about that?
We need to educate everybody – this shouldn’t just be a policy issue for the cognoscenti – we need to show IP is important to everybody. There is agreement across the board that we need government funding behind us to help with this, which is a big acknowledgement and should really support our goals. We’ll all be focusing on education over the coming months.
What are the alliance’s core strengths?
It’s the collective voice. The alliance has been going now for over 10 years and it’s become an established voice in the debate. We provide evidence, we don’t just sloganise. And we approach all the issues in a very positive way. We’re seen as honest brokers and we’ve been able to work with government to advise on legislation.
What challenges does the Alliance, and the greater IP industries, face at the moment?
There’s the ever-present threat of infringement – of piracy – and that means there will always be a debate about copyright protection and strength.
Related to that is copyright erosion. There are businesses out there for whom copyright is seen as a hindrance. It gets in the way of them doing business. They would rather not have to reward songwriters, authors, publishers, film studios etc, in order to further their own business models.
They have deep pockets and they lobby extensively. I think they’ve been quite successful in catching the ear of policymakers in the UK and Europe to push for copyright reforms. And they’ve been quite successful in spinning the line that copyright doesn’t work in the digital age – which is our biggest challenge. Even though I think it’s hard to find a British policymaker who goes along with that alternate world view, there are people who do listen to it. We’ve got to be toe-to-toe with them, challenging what they say.
There have been many iterations of copyright law over the years, and there have also been many historical fears surrounding its infringement, for example with home taping in the eighties. Do you think current law is fit for purpose and do you perceive the threats to IP as greater now than before?
I do think the threat is at a quantitatively different level. You’re right, home taping was pretty widespread but it was limited by the amount people could actually do it, whereas in the digital world there is no limit. The quantitative difference is very significant. The quality of those copies is much better, so it becomes a qualitative issue too.
Do you think copyright law does enough of a job to protect IP now?
Yes, I think it does. Most of the conversations we have with government are about enforcing the law that’s already there. I think copyright provides the right framework for creators and rightsholders to be rewarded. There are provisions within it to take action when people infringe. But we also think that the penalties for infringing in the digital world should be the same as in the physical world, but that isn’t the case at the moment.
There are provisions in the act – such as the ability to require internet service providers to take action against infringers – that have brought success with a few high profile court cases. I think we all agree it should be easier than that, and it is getting that way, but it’s been a long battle.
So legislation isn’t the only answer?
I don’t think it should all be about looking at what’s in the law and acting upon it. One of our major collective and individual policy points is that internet intermediaries, and search engines in particular, should do more to tackle infringement without either side having to troop off to the high court.
It doesn’t come down to the act, it comes down to what responsible internet businesses are prepared to do in the digital economy. We think that the time has long gone where people could stand up and say, ‘The internet is different, it’s not under any domain, it should be a free for all’. That sort of woolly thinking looks pretty old fashioned as the digital economy takes off and people recognise the digital marketplace needs rules and regulations in the same way the physical marketplace does.
How important is World IP Day? What do you have planned?
We’re launching our manifesto in parliament on the Monday immediately after World IP Day deliberately. We want to get people focused on IP that day. More to follow on that…
In addition to his role at the Alliance for IP, Richard Mollet is chief executive of the Publishers Association. In this role he is responsible for leading political engagement with government and parliament at a national and EU level. He also regularly represents publishers in the broadcast and print media.