Business Interviews Legal The Great Escape 2014

Q&A: Mike Weatherley MP

By | Published on Thursday 13 February 2014

Mike Weatherley

Mike Weatherley became MP for Hove and Portslade in 2010, after a decade working in the music and movie industries. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that he has become very involved in the debates around the music and content sectors in Westminster, including live music, ticketing and copyright. In the latter domain, last year he was appointed IP Advisor to David Cameron, and he recently gave a key speech during a parliamentary debate on intellectual property matters.

Later this year, he will lead a half-day strand at the CMU Insights-programmed Great Escape convention called Maximising Music Rights, discussing current thinking on copyright matters in political circles. Ahead of that, and following that recent parliamentary debate, CMU Business Editor Chris Cooke caught up with Mike to get the lowdown on current Westminster thinking on piracy and music rights.

For more details about The Great Escape convention click here, and for the full line-up of the Maximising Music Rights strand click here. And book your delegates passes here.

CC: Online piracy was discussed again in Westminster recently, although the actual parliamentary debate where it occurred was more focused on reforming design law. Are new measures for combatting the online infringement of music or video specifically on the agenda at the moment?
MW: The recommendations made in the 2010 ‘Hargreaves Report’ are due to be enacted by Statutory Instrument during March. But other than that, no other measures are scheduled for discussion to my knowledge, though these things are under constant review.

CC: The anti-piracy measures of the 2010 Digital Economy Act are yet to actually be enacted. Is there a time-scale for launching the so called ‘graduated response’ warning letter programme? Is it even still a valid anti-piracy programme four years on?
MW: This is likely to go ahead in the next few months and yes, it is still valid and one of many steps that is necessary on the road to combating online theft.

CC: Ironically, so called ‘web-blocking’ – essentially rejected when the DEA was drafted – has become the norm in the UK under existing copyright law. Do you think parliament should consider a statutory web-blocking system to speed up that process and better clarify to web-operators what their obligations are?
MW: There are many alternatives to legislation that need to be tried first, but ultimately yes, it may be necessary to consider such action in my view. But there are other considerations as well, and there needs to be many safeguards to ensure it is not free speech that is affected.

CC: Going after the revenue streams of piracy operations was discussed in that recent parliamentary debate on IP. The IFPI and City Of London Police have already been very active in this domain, do you think new legislation is required to help in this process?
MW: Quite possibly. I am currently having meetings with relevant people to discuss specific failings of current legislation and possible solutions. “Following the money” is an extremely important element to reducing the prevalence of illegal sites.

CC: The big headline after the recent debate was “custodial sentences for online pirates”. Can you clarify your opinions here? When would custodial sentences be appropriate, and does the law need changing to achieve this?
MW: There was a lot of misinformation on this subject. But theft is theft. We do need penalties and these should range from initial contact and explanation – everyone’s preferred option – to fines, graduated depending on frequency and scale, and, in extreme cases where the person has no regard for law, removal of internet access. And for commercial entities who undertake theft on a huge scale, we cannot rule out custodial sentences in the same way that criminal gangs are held to similar account for tangible goods. Please note that no one is suggesting a fourteen year old will go to jail for file-sharing, but as for all stealing, from shops or wherever, there do need to be consequences on an appropriate basis, typically, after explanation and graduated fines, as for tangible goods.

CC: Google’s role in all this comes up with increased frequency. Many in the music industry feel Google should do more to ensure piracy sites don’t appear in its search results. What do you think Google could or should be doing to help combat online piracy, and could government do anything to make that happen?
MW: I am doing a paper on this shortly and would prefer to wait until I have gathered all the evidence, but I am not comfortable about asking Google to be the policemen – it is not them who are distributing the illegal content – but they do have a role to play in directing people to legal sites and should be part of the informing and educating agenda. But as always, I would prefer government not to introduce measures by force; that should only be a last resort option.

CC: Music rights owners seem to think that government and parliament have more to do on piracy issues, and they do have their supporters in the political community; but there are many detractors too. What do you think music companies could do to better present their arguments to politicians, the tech community and society at large?
MW: The real answer to this is long and detailed, but in summary: two of the strands of my approach are ‘education’ and ‘carrot’. Both need to be implemented before ‘stick’. In other words, the industry needs to help government educate the public as to the consequences of IP theft, and music and film companies need to make their models attractive to users so legal alternatives are welcomed by consumers. I have spoken about this a lot, and the middle section of my speech at the recent parliamentary debate focused on this subject.

CC: We talk a lot about copyright education. Are there any moves to include copyright in the school curriculum? And what could or should the content industries be doing in this domain?
MW: Including IP in the curriculum has been ruled out by Department Of Education. However, my Rock The House and Film The House  competitions are part of this educational process and, together with the Intellectual Property Office, the industry will be formulating a plan to address this more fully during 2014. It is as much the responsibility of the creative industries as government to bring the message to the general public and schools.