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Copyright industries need to win public as well as political debate

By | Published on Wednesday 31 August 2011


While most of the copyright proposals in the Digital Economy Act are reasonable, neither the government nor the entertainment industry has successfully persuaded the public of that fact, or so says Scottish lawyer Paul Carlyle, a member of the Law Society Of Scotland’s Intellectual Property Law Committee.

Speaking at the Festival Of Politics in Edinburgh last week Carlyle noted: “It’s interesting, is it not, that an industry that can sell us Cheryl Cole, Jedward and all the other ‘X-Factor’ creations, and which can persuade us to part with good money for all sorts of products linked to these celebrities, has somehow failed to persuade much of the public that they should pay for digital content”.

Carlyle said he agreed with much of what his fellow panellist, Pete Wishart MP, a former member of Scottish band Runrig and now vocal supporter of copyright in the Westminster parliament, had said about the importance of intellectual property rights for the UK and Scottish economies, and of the need for new laws – including the punitive measures in the DEA against online infringers – to secure those rights.

However, he feared that while the political community and entertainment industry were invariably of one mind on the economic importance of protecting IP rights online, they had not taken public opinion with them on this one, and that would make enforcing the new laws tricky. “Copyright was in the news last year more than any other I can remember, with the DEA and the Pirate Bay case among others getting much coverage”, he continued. “And yet a lot of people still haven’t been convinced about why they should have to pay for digital content”.

Education and communication, therefore, should be at the top of the agenda of rights owners and their political supporters, though Carlyle conceded that talking the public round, and especially those in the generation that have grown up with free access to all sorts of content online, was no easy task.

Given the location of this particular IP debate, in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh’s Holyrood, it was no surprise really that the issue of Scotland’s intellectual property laws, and who should control them, was raised. Although there are some slight differences in the copyright system under Scottish law, Carlyle informed the audience, in the main IP in Scotland is the same as in England, with the whole area controlled by Westminster not Holyrood.

As a Scottish National Party MP, what did Wishart make of this? “Actually, and this might surprise you, I am very relaxed about that fact”, the musical MP revealed. “So much of copyright is now governed by the European Union anyway, and the bodies that represent rights owners and creators – so in the music space the BPI, PRS and so on – are all UK-wide bodies based in London. So it makes sense, and it is, I believe, in the interests of Scottish creators, for these matters to be driven by Westminster”.

Though, of course, as an SNP MP, for Wishart, officially at least, Scottish independence is inevitable. As such he added: “After independence, of course, things will change, though I do believe there will still be benefits to our creative industries to have harmony on IP issues across the British Isles”.