by Andrew Fletcher
Our future digital economy: Creative ownership in a post-scarcity world
19:00 – 20:00, 31 October 2011, Imperial College Business School
Blog by Sherry Morris and Andrew Fletcher
The third Tech City Talk, hosted by Imperial College Business School and the Guardian’s Tech Weekly team focused on intellectual property and copyright, building on the Hargreaves review commissioned by the Government – ‘Digital Opportunity’.
Introduced as part of an administration that was somewhat unique in having had a technology agenda from the get-go, Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, empathized with the need to balance protecting content creators, whilst also enabling innovators, since it was embodied within his role. He felt that the Hargreaves review had got the balance right in that regard
Feargal Sharkey, CEO of UK Music, felt that the economic opportunity highlighted by the Hargreaves review had been vastly over-estimated, and that the growth opportunities could not be justified. He did agree, though, that clearer laws were needed to ensure investors that they will receive something of clear value for their financial contribution and that these laws should provide the certainty they need to invest. Professor Tom Hoehn, Director of the Intellectual Property Research Centre at Imperial College Business School also highlighted the mis-measurement of the creative economy, but instead picked out evidence that it was vastly underestimated and therefore welcomed the opportunity to think about new business models more deeply to explore how even more value could be derived from the outputs of the creative industries. He pointed out how Imperial College currently does research in related areas through the Open Platform and the Digital City Exchange.
When asked about the shortcomings of the current laws Professor Ian Hargreaves, Chair of Digital Economy at the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, was quick to point out that the UK has the most successful creative industries sector in the European time zone, but it could be even more successful with the internet playing a huge role. He felt the questions to ask are: Why haven’t these digital industries done better? and How can we make them work better? His recommendations set out to answer these questions. The Hargreaves report notes that the UK has taken a cautious approach to intellectual property and needs to do more to support this ‘powerhouse sector.’
Following a question about the need to create ‘zones of certainty,’ Ed Vaizey agreed that it was the proper role of government to put these in place. There is nothing wrong in an era of digital disruption in re-examining the IP laws in order for companies emerging from this disruption to invest in IP. However, it is not Government’s job to protect old business models. Tom pointed out that in 1990 Microsoft had three patents, whereas now it has over 10,000. It has now completely changed its business model and how it protects its IP and the same thing will need to happen in the content industries
For Jeff Lynn, Chairman of Coadec, where UK copyright has gone wrong is that it is being applied to things it was never meant to apply to, for example in the areas of data and text mining. If these laws block innovation rather than enhance it, he feels they need to be reviewed – as he puts it, just because IP isn’t everything doesn’t mean it isn’t something. Copyright is supposed to be about encouraging learning and innovation. When copyright is stopping that, then something needs to be done. He cited the example of large record companies fighting hard against innovation in the past because its business model was being disrupted, the results of which had still left scars in the tech community. Ian agreed that from an economic perspective there is a need to be wary of unintended consequences, otherwise people will find themselves in a place where they are held back because copyright is uncertain. Jeff went on to point out that there is very little difference in temperament between the tech entrepreneurs in silicon roundabout and the content creators: they both share a passion for what they do. Feargal agreed that there was a consensus for content creators, technologists, ISPs and others to work together and that we should move on and collaborate together to drive things forward.
The discussion moved beyond copyright to other areas where value isn’t being retained, particularly through talent. Ed Vaizey welcomed Tech City in this regard as a great way of sending out the signal that Britain is interested in tech start-ups and that the UK in general, and London in particular, is seen by the rest of the world as a ‘tech hub.’ Protection beyond copyright was discussed – Google admit that IP protects their business and if the ambition/goal is to build the next Google or Facebook then an IP regime suitable for software that allows these businesses to thrive is needed. Jeff cautioned that for many entrepreneurs, concerns about protecting IP are low on the list. He stressed the important difference between understanding the importance of protecting IP and then articulating what IP laws should look like.
The panel was asked how best to ‘future-proof’ these laws so that this issue does not have to be re-visited each time there is a new development. Feargal felt in general the amount of money ‘promised’ to the UK by relaxing or renegotiating the rules was a gross overstatement and was seriously doubted by those closely involved in revamping the system. He also linked this to other EU countries which provide compensation for the copying of works, and that the UK was one of only two countries in EU that didn’t do this. The panel agreed with Ian when he said that getting the data infrastructure right was actually more important that the intellectual property issue.
When asked how databases can work internationally and how illegal sites should be addressed, Ian pointed out that no one has yet managed to put together interoperable databases that are as easy for content creators to access as Hollywood studios. However, this gives an opportunity to negotiate the rules about how this works and to define a lawful way for people to operate which could spread. The Digital Copyright Exchange offers opportunity for content creators to ‘not be on their own’ when seeking recompense. Ultimately, we need a world where consumers are not confused as hell about all of this.
The final talk in the series is currently being scheduled. For more information and to register: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/blog/2011/oct/03/tech-weekly-tech-city-talks-digital-economy-event