IPPR Creative Britannia event

James Purnell, the creative indsutries minister, gave the keynote at an IPPR event this morning on the theme of ‘Creative Britannia’. The speech announced the successor to Chris Smith’s ‘creative industries task force’ – a new policy initiative to support the creative industries in the UK. Most of the speech was quite routine, but he did announce a new project to deliver the Government’s manifesto pledge to review the copyright/IP laws for a digital world.

There was a report a week or so ago that he was in favour of extending some copyright limitations to 100yrs. He didn’t actually announce that in the speech, but instead was quite careful to emphasise the need to both renew IP laws in light of the digital age, but also to preserve ‘the easy exchange of ideas’. A few people (including Will) tried to get him to be a bit more explicit on this, but he artfully avoided saying anything.

Adam Singer gave a response from the stage that was full of fantastic rhetoric, describing the emerging market for 3D printers as a harbinger of a world in which all creative IP is under threat from piracy: “It doesn’t matter if the button says ‘print’ [in reference to 3D printers] or ‘burn’ – all design will become simply a file to be shared”. He saw strong IP as the “intellectual hygiene of a networked world”, suggesting that IP law should be taught as the “new domestic science” in schools, as it was the most important future skill for creative entrepreneurs. His rhetoric, although very entertaining, was from the dystopian end of the telescope – “each time bandwith increases, another industry will fall [because of IP theft]”. You could try to unpick all the false assumptions in that last sentence, but frankly, its not worth it. Just sit back and bask in the warm glow of his fire and brimstone. In fairness, Adam Singer is far more measured and informed than the above quotes suggest (despite describing Lawrence Lessig as the “Martin Luther of copyright” that the music industry had failed to burn…), but he’s a great public speaker, and it’s his job to provoke.

I asked a question to the panel about the kind of industry trends that the DCMS were looking into when developing new IP models for the creative industries. Writers like Henry Chesbrough and Eric Von Hippel have documented trends in ‘old’ industries like Pharma and Engineering towards ‘open innovation’ models. Emerging best practise is to maximise your return from IP through a range of licensing models outside your own company, moving from old models of patent enforcement to open licensing models with peer companies and even Von Hippel’s ‘Free Revealing’, where IP is given up in order to drive other competitive advantages.

It would be a shame if the DCMS assumed that a monolithic protectionist approach was the best model for the creative industries, whilst ‘older’ industries were moving towards models that maximised the return on IP through more flexible approaches. Creative Commons, Backstage and the BBC’s Creative Archive License are breaking new ground in this area, and the DCMS should be encouraging more experiments like this, not discouraging them.

UPDATE – good article by David Rowan on the same event in the Times today. He makes a similar comparison to other industry models, pointing out that patents are restricted to 20 years to encourage innovation, so why do the creative industries need up to 5 times as much protection?


  1. Boing Boing

    What UK’s copyright industries are up to

    The BBC’s Matt Locke has written a great report on yesterday’s meeting on copyright in the UK that was held by a minister who is reported to have called for extending copyright on performances to the performer’s life plus one hundred years. Adam Singer…

  2. CIE Thoughts

    Cool Britannia should be about more than making money

    As David Dawson points out, the UK Government has revived its early interest (does anyone else remember Cool Britannia?) in the “Creative Industries” and their value to this country. That value is, of course, far more than just economic,…

  3. A.R.Yngve

    “Each time bandwith increases, another industry will fall”…

    Now there’s a gloomy statement if I ever heard one.

    It’s almost as good as the popular 1970s litania
    “By the year 2000, all oil reserves will run dry and everbody will starve because the world is overpopulated and we’ll be in a new Ice Age, and… and…!”

    So here we are in 2005, and the industries are toppling like dominoes before the ruthless onslaught of the Internet… every evil citizen is making his own pirated CDs, DVDs, medicines, cars, household appliances… right?

    And when, exactly, are we going to have the time to copy all that stuff?

    The scaremongers seem to forget a very strong argument for buying non-pirated stuff: CONVENIENCE.
    Even if we could go back to the Stone Age and build everything we wanted/needed ourselves, it would be less CONVENIENT.
    Downloading music over the Internet is popular not because it’s evil, but because it is CONVENIENT.
    So try and make legal distribution more CONVENIENT.

    But of course, improving old distribution models is a lot of work and changing your old routines… and that’s not CONVENIENT. How much more CONVENIENT to scare, threaten and alienate the consumers instead.


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