Steve Redmond on the vote which suggests the content industries are still out of step on piracy

Monday October 21, 2013

Last Thursday over 100 representatives of the content industries gathered under the auspices of the Alliance for Intellectual Property in the grand surroundings of the Royal Society.

With contributions from Vince Cable and Euro-Commissioner Michel Barnier, it was a high-level affair. Delegates ranged from trade associations (the BVA, BPI, UKIE) to big brand owners (Hasbro, Estee Lauder, British American Tobacco) to national and local government representatives. And lawyers. Lots of lawyers.

The Alliance has successfully rebranded itself as the positive-sounding Alliance For Intellectual Property rather than its old formulation the Alliance Against IP Theft. Its focus remains piracy but, on the evidence of Thursday, its agenda is increasingly broadening to focus on repelling attempts to reform copyright in Europe.

Coincidentally the issues of piracy and copyright had been discussed at an ERA board meeting just 24 hours earlier. No one can doubt the commitment of retailers to the anti-piracy cause. Through their contributions to PPL and the Industry Trust and the Alliance, retailers pay well over £1.2m per year on the fight against piracy.

Given the parlous state of retail finances, that is a huge sum.

But retailers are not ideologues. They have to be pragmatists. They want to see value for money for their investment. Their prime objective is not minimising the activities of pirates, it is maximising revenues.

Which makes the contrast between the two discussions all the more interesting.

On Wednesday retailers were fairly unanimous in their view that copyright in Europe is currently not working, most notably in the often frustrating, always time consuming and unnecessarily complicated business of licensing in Europe.

There was a strong consensus that piracy could be effectively reduced if only content owners made it easier to licence their product.

Contrast that then with the results of the poll of those gathered at the Royal Society on Thursday. When asked "Which do you view as having the most important role to play in the battle against IP infringement online?" the audience comprised mainly of content owners answered in first place Enforcement (40.7%), second Education (35.6%) and last of the three options, Availability (23.7%).

This was the exact reverse of the views expressed by ERA's retailers just the day before.

To be fair, content owners in the entertainment industry have moderated their approach to enforcement in recent years. We have seen more emphasis on consumer education and the days of suing small children seem to be behind us.

But it does indicate that the first instinct of content owners is still to rely on enforcement above all.

The message likely to come from retailers over the coming months is that a more enlightened approach to licensing and a cool look at whether existing copyright structures are really fit for the digital age is likely to be significantly more effective in maximising the revenues of retailers and content owners alike.

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