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Music industry again calls on UK government to include copyright in online harms debate

By | Published on Thursday 13 February 2020


The music industry has responded to a government update on its online harms consultation by again urging ministers to widen the scope of the project.

The UK government published a white paper on so called online harms last April. Part of what is often called the ‘platform responsibility’ debate, it considered possible legal reforms in relation to a whole load of issues created by the rise of the net, including cyberbullying, cyberstalking, disinformation, revenge porn, incitement of violence and the distribution of terrorist or violent content, or of images of child abuse. The big question is, to what extent should the responsibilities of the big digital services and platforms be increased?

Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan and Home Secretary Priti Patel yesterday published an update on the consultation that followed that white paper. They acknowledged that some are concerned that proposed new rules to deal with these online harms might threaten free speech, or put a disproportionate strain on smaller tech companies.

On the latter point, the ministers said: “Analysis so far suggests that fewer than 5% of UK businesses will be in scope of this regulatory framework”. Any new responsibilities would only apply to specific groups of companies, mainly those that “facilitate the sharing of user-generated content, for example through comments, forums or video sharing”.

From a music industry perspective, some of the sector’s lobbyists are hoping that the platform responsibility debate might be extended to also include copyright matters, and the responsibilities of tech giants and content-sharing platforms to tackle ongoing piracy.

The music industry was lobbying for copyright and related issues to be included in all this online harms work last year, but the whole thing has become more pressing since the UK government confirmed it does not intend to implement the new European Copyright Directive. If online harms legislation was to be extended to include copyright, things like the safe harbour reform contained in that directive could be lobbied for at a UK level.

Responding to yesterday’s update from Morgan and Patel, the boss of UK record industry trade group BPI, Geoff Taylor, said: “The BPI welcomes the global lead the UK government is taking to make big tech platforms more accountable for the content they host and the online harms they enable. As these proposals are taken forward, we would encourage government to consider extending them to encompass other forms of harm, including fraud and intellectual property theft, which have a serious negative impact on the public and on creators”.

He went on: “The creative industries now account for £111 billion of UK GVA and are growing five times faster than the rest of the UK economy. Fuelling their success should be a priority for the UK, and the online harms proposals present a key opportunity to turbocharge growth from this sector and give the UK a strategic economic advantage”.

Those sentiments were echoed by the interim CEO of cross-sector trade group UK Music, Tom Kiehl, who said in a statement: “UK Music strongly supports efforts to protect people from online harm. The government should also deal with harms that damage our economy and people’s jobs. The scope of any legislation needs to be widened to ensure big tech takes greater responsibility for the activities and actions it supports online to protect our culture and creativity”.

He added: “The UK music industry is worth £5.2 billion to the economy, generates export revenues of £2.7 billion and employs 190,000 people, but the continued threat of piracy and failing to properly value copyright protected works online risks damaging the investment, innovation and future talent on which our world-leading music industry depends”.