I spoke on the phone with Peter Hay of PR Week last Friday regarding the Digital Economy Act. It was a long and varied call and most of what we discussed you will have probably already read if you follow my work here and at Left Foot Forward. Peter distilled it down alongside feedback from Wadds and Will McInnes, you can read the article here and see Stuart Bruce discussing the law on video.
I pointed out to Peter that the Digital Economy Act threatens sites like YouTube because it threatens to block a site that “is likely to be used for in connection with an activity that infringes copyright” which threatens clients investment in social media content aimed at a UK audience, so directly impacting the UK digital PR sector.
The second aspect is the nebulous definition of what would constitute ‘suspicious activity‘ online as part of the three strikes programme. So this could be sharing video rushes online with a client, or a podcast as these may look like piracy to Fergal Sharkey and Co. Most PR agencies are small-to-medium sized enterprises who don’t have the resources to fight off legal challenges and could pull out of this work at the first legal threat letter from the media industry. This will screw with the profitability and workflow of online PR activity. However, the demand for couriers running around with flash drives and DVD disks will probably increase – now may be a good time to set up a courier business.
If you were a global brand, you may wish to avoid the hassle of the UK market and hope that your North American campaign will ‘bleed’ awareness into the UK market instead.
It also has the advantage that you can hold more of the budget at HQ, you don’t have to worry about a second set of materials to approve and having to get awkward Brit input and sign-off on your project – though I know Will McInnes disagrees with me on that point.
Finally, the law ties the hands of the UK start-up sector. The UK is already woefully behind other markets in terms of investment and funding for start-ups but this bill effectively outlaws start-ups across a swathe of sectors.
It puts enormous pressure on anybody involved in user-generated content. If I think about the people who I know who run start-ups in London, the last thing they need is having a lawyer on board from day one to deal with the continual legal grind that you may come under. Mike Butcher in his article for Techcrunch: Doublethink – The Digital Economy Bill against the digital economy articulates these challenges really well.
Struan Robertson of law firm Pinsent Masons in his article Unvarnished law: review site shows why UK is playing digital economy catch-up uses the example of Silicon Valley darling start-up Unvarnished to show how UK technology innovation has been crippled by the law in comparison to its US counterparts. My favourite quote from his article which sums up everything quite neatly:
It’s a law that does little to stimulate the digital economy. Rather, it appears to defibrillate our analogue economy in a frenzied attempt to postpone its final breath.
I think that the law lays down the foundation for the UK to create the knowledge economy equivalent of British Leyland: a protected, cosseted underresourced, conflict-driven sector that will bleed the country dry – creatively and economically.
The opportunity cost of less UK start-ups, an even less vibrant investment market and less US internet companies wanting to enter Europe through the UK will have a huge cumulative impact on the UK economy and directly on UK technology PR practitioners.
PR is a global business and the UK will lose some of its best and brightest digital and technology people to more open markets, for instance the Far East or North America. The lack of opportunity will also make it harder to attract some of the best international talent who currently invigorate our industry with their ideas and different perspective.
The real scary bit is that this is JUST THE START according the Labour Party Manifesto 2010 (section 7:6 – on page 54 of 78 in the PDF version) which contains a commitment to:
…update the intellectual property framework that is crucial to the creative industries – and take further action to tackle online piracy.
The Digital Economy Act; damaging though it is is only the opening salvo to create a digital nuclear winter against consumers, internet companies and the PR industry.