British Member of Parliament Mike Weatherley looks back on his stint as an IP adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron and outlines his three-pronged strategy in winning the war against infringements Mike Weatherley says the turning point in his campaign against intellectual property rights infringement was the moment the British government decided to take him seriously about two years ago.
“In the past two years the British government has made very welcoming progress,” says Weatherley. “Overall I would give the government a ‘B’. Not quite ‘A’ yet but getting there.”
The Conservative Party backbench parliamentarian – he was elected to his seat of Hove and Portslade on the southern coast only in 2010 – had previously been a businessman in the manufacturing and entertainment industries, two sectors that rely on a robust IP rights regime.
David Cameron, who led the Conservative- dominated government elected in 2010, appointed Weatherley as IP adviser to the Prime Minister, a new position. “This was an important historic step, enabling progress in many specific areas.”
In true parliamentary tradition, Weatherley decided what was necessary was a report to give Cameron and his colleagues. The result was Search Engines, a private discussion paper released in May 2014. He stressed that search engines are not the cause of online piracy, but that data showed that they play an important role in inadvertently guiding consumers towards illegal content and are well placed to be part of the solution.
“My first report recommended that the Internet search engines sit down with government and industry to thrash out problems and solutions, and the first such meeting took place, showing that the government was taking the report seriously.”
Search Engines was the first of a trilogy of reports. Emboldened by support from Cameron and Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Weatherley published Follow the Money, which addresses the impact of illegal websites profiting from advertising, and Copyright Education and Awareness, which examines IP education and aims to help reinforce the importance of respecting IP and paying a fair price for content.
Weatherley says his business background explains his interest in IP. “As the owner of a company exporting customised products around the world, I built up a knowledge of patents and trade marks. And then I worked in the music and film industries around licensing and rights holders,” Weatherley says. “It became a logical step to use this expertise in Parliament.”
One of the shortcomings in the prosecution of IP infringement cases was the absence of a coordinated response by the authorities. Weatherley campaigned for the creation of the national Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), which was set up in September 2012.
“Setting up PIPCU signalled a change in tactics that infringers would be tracked down and prosecuted by a specialist team,” Weatherley says. “It has brought in other and more specialists as well. It basically just got more serious.”
The support of senior politicians also galvanised the bureaucracy. “The Intellectual Property Office has restructured to become much more focused on delivering a robust programme,” Weatherley says of Britain’s government body responsible for IP policy, educating businesses and consumers about IP rights and responsibilities and supporting IP enforcement as well as granting patents, trade marks and design rights throughout the U.K.
Weatherley says his reports were received by the IPO with some trepidation, as he urged that the IPO coordinate cross-sector IP working groups and awareness programmes reach out to the wider public and set out a strategic outreach plan by the first quarter of 2015, with a cross-industry working group convening quarterly to review its progress. “I think they were a little nervous to start with but now see that [the reports] are there to be constructive and support them.”
Weatherley recommends that every country develop a coordinated structure that defends IP rights and prosecutes infringements. “With a variety of agencies all with their own part to play – the IPO, PIPCU, National Crime Agency, the various trading standards organisations and legislators – the task seems almost too daunting,” he observes. The solution, he adds, is a “dedicated IP tsar” or coordinator. “Without one, coordination is almost impossible. I would recommend every nation appoint one as soon as possible.”
Once coordinated, IP protection can be a basically three-pronged approach, Weatherley recommends. “There is no one solution to piracy – it involves a combination of education, carrot and stick,” he says, “and then on top of that there are further disruption measures such as search engine support and follow-the-money initiatives.”
However, Weatherley acknowledges that education and awareness campaigns have had very limited impact. “The big challenge of the future is in how we deliver a meaningful message on respect for IP,” he says. “It’s a huge task with little immediate tangible gain.”
The carrots, he says, involve creative industries changing the way they make products available to ensure that consumers can easily access content legally. “Proponents of piracy say downloading content legally is too complicated,” says Weatherley. “Industry, therefore, needs to find innovative ways to ensure that content is easily available and in so doing make piracy a less attractive option.” New, workable solutions that Weatherley welcomes include the film industry’s multi-format licence option for home use. “Industry must step up and provide alternatives that are attractive to consumers – they can’t just keep insisting on getting the stick out,” he says. “We need to start embracing solutions like Spotify and Bloom.fm, both of which have a one-off licensing model, which is proving popular,” he says.
When the sticks are deployed, Weatherley says, they should be used proportionately. They can be directed partially at end-user infringers, but much of the heavy artillery should be aimed at upstream providers of infringing content. “Before any punitive action can be taken, we do need society to be on the side that piracy is wrong as a general concept,” he says. “Only then can we think about punishment for offenders.”
Weatherley stepped down as Cameron’s IP adviser in October 2014 and is not seeking reelection to parliament next year. However, he hopes he will continue the IP rights fight outside the House of Commons. “I remain available to advise and support in any capacity industry or government would like me to,” he says. “The difference will be that I will need to be asked formally to be involved in projects, rather than initiate debate as I do now.”