Intellectual property and the EU

3 minutes estimated reading time

Intellectual property legislation has been in the news for the past few weeks as years of lobbying by industry bodies like the RIAA, MPAA and the IFPI have hit a consumer road block. In the UK, the Digital Economy Act which was largely due to the work of the lobbying team at the BPI squeezed in as a dying gasp of Gordon Brown’s Labour administration. This legislation has been in rallied around by the Conservative faction of the current government whilst ignoring consumer rights and many of the digital businesses that it thinks will help to lead the country out of recession.

At a European level, consumers were rallied to the issue of intellectual property by the widespread publicity given to the US SOPA and Protect IP bills that were going through the US parliamentary process. This acted as an entreé for the main course ACTA; which many countries signed up to by surreptitious process to run an end game around likely technology sector counter-lobbying. What this did instead was bring about a militant consumer and political reaction to the agreement which is likely to scupper it.

This has tapped into an anti-American sentiment where intellectual property looks like trade protectionism rather than legitimate concerns; and an anti-media industry sentiment driven by a number of elements:

  • A lack of trust in content and the media in general
  • The inability of businesses to adapt to consumers changing needs for consuming content and the long tail
  • A long-held feeling that consumers are getting gouged in terms of how much they pay for content
  • A perception that these companies are dishonest in their dealings with their artists – Kenny Rogers is currently suing EMI, Cheap Trick and the Allman Brothers have filed against Sony Music, Rick James and Chuck D have taken action against Universal, and Sister Sledge are taking action against Warner Music. This is further exasperated by labels enthusiasm for streaming isn’t matched by artists
  • Frustration and regional restrictions on content and predatory pricing – which becomes more transparent when you look at different Amazon sites and media news websites around the world

The media industry has increasingly tried to have a free ride by passing on costs and responsibility for enforcement to the online property owners like Google and other companies. A less talked about recent development was that the European Court of Justice found against Belgian music royalties collection society SABAM in a case it took against Netlog. It found that courts forcing social networks to monitor for illegal file sharing would strike the wrong balance between the rights of consumers, service providers and content owners.

Looking around the brute force lobbying tactics of the media industry aren’t working; they need to come up with a better, more attractive idea to consumers. One of the key problems in achieving this is they need to have the technology sector on board to make that happen so fence building is required. Media companies also need to get their house in order in terms of being seen to be fair with consumers and artists which requires extensive business re-engineering and a ‘mucking out’ of established management practices – these changes will then take a while to be communicated and believed by consumers.

Finally, the countries that have acted as key drivers around intellectual property rights need to look carefully at how they can achieve reputational damage reduction in Europe.

There is a lot of work to be done before a fair and adult approach can be taken to resolving intellectual property rights in the digital age.

Archived from the blog that I used to write for PR Week. More media related content can be found here.