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20 Mar 2008 : Column 312WH—continued

Publishers and others should encourage young people to discover new ants, or whatever it is that might some day be useful in an experiment. Of course, at the other
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end, there is the drug industry with its patents, intellectual property rights and so on. The system seems to work. It generates a field where one can act to prevent other people from using the product of one’s own endeavours. I think that the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, created by the Prime Minister, will tackle a lot of the problems that I am talking about.

Patents are important. We judge the success of industries, universities and higher education centres by the number of patents they hold. It is a crude measure of success. I do not see why copyrights could not also be a crude measure of success in certain industries. It ought to be done much more avidly than it is.

We need to think not just about music when considering the problems of downloading. We need to think about the kinds of problem addressed by the new all-party writers’ group that we have set up. People’s writing is being exploited. An article that appeared in the Evening Standardappears in the Hong Kong Times under the same name, but nobody has been asked for permission to print it, and they certainly do not get paid for it. One might ask why they should be, to which the answer is: they should be paid for it because writing is their only source of income.

I spoke the other day to Maureen Freely, the famous president of the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society in this country. She is eminent and well known. When she writes a book, she gets £1,000 laid on the table, just like that. We talk about the minimum wage, but such a book takes her three years to produce, and she gets £1,000 from the publishers. That is not a problem for J.K. Rowling, Peter Mandelson, ex-Prime Ministers and such people, who get big money, but it is a problem for the majority of writers in this country whose products people enjoy.

We are moving into an age in which books, too, can be downloaded on to digital devices. I am not sure how many books can stored, but I think that somebody told me it was 30,000. There is nothing like curling up with a book. I am sure that the Minister enjoys it as much as the rest of us, but there is now the opportunity to read them on a digital screen. It may not be as cuddly, but it is certainly there, and it exploits a lot of the work that writers do. That is a problem.

We will hear more about the music industry. The all-party writers’ group is supported by the ALCS, many of whose surveys have turned up interesting facts about public attitudes to copyright. Most people surveyed believe that artists should be recompensed for their work rather than having it purloined. They believe that a reasonable sum should be given them, because that is their sole income. As I have pointed out, many are not as successful as Ian Rankin, J.K. Rowling and so on. There is always a spread. Downloading can happen with the written word as well, and I think that it will increase.

Mr. Vaizey: Is it not also a problem for writers that the Government have cut the money available for the public lending right?

Dr. Gibson: That is another issue, of course. The ALCS owes the Prime Minister £60 for a book that he produced, and we are hoping to be able to present him
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with a cheque at an event here in the House of Commons in a few months’ time. The hon. Gentleman has a point, but that comes from diminishing the amount of money that writers get from library loans and so on. Maybe we can persuade the Prime Minister that it would have been £160 if the Government had not reduced the amount of money that writers get from book borrowing from libraries.

Margaret Hodge: Although we have given a tough settlement this year—the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) is correct in saying that—does my hon. Friend agree that we have increased the amount of money that an author can get per copy in the past five years? I think that it has more than doubled. That is a massive increase, and it shows the support that we give writers, unlike the Conservatives, who never did anything but cut, cut, cut every year.

Dr. Gibson: I am not into sectarian violence in Havana Hall this afternoon, that is for sure. However, the point is well made. We have recognised the problem and produced a solution. Many people may find it a little severe, but I am sure that we can do something about it to encourage younger people starting their careers by giving them some recompense for the work that they produce.

We have heard about education. As always, it is half the battle. The DCMS report says that intellectual property rights are poorly understood, and the point has been made that many of the public love a bit of piracy here and there, as they are getting something for free. A large percentage of consumers have looked at pirated video content, and one cannot go to a cinema now without being extolled to report anybody who is holding up a camera and trying to record the film being shown.

Teenagers realise that they can download things for free instead of having to use their parents’ credit card, which is the alternative. That that is illegal should be inculcated in them through the education system. Adults will download free books, so it is not just teenagers; adults will do it too if it is easy enough. Free music and free books may someday mean no music and no books. People may find it difficult to continue to produce if piracy continues to happen. DCMS says that reducing software piracy would generate 30,000 jobs and £11 billion into the official economy, so it is worth doing.

Another recommendation that we have heard about relates to the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property Policy. The board is doing fine, although its predecessor had a few problems—basically, it did not have people who knew what they were talking about. Feargal Sharkey of British Music Rights made that point:

Everyone here will have read the magnificent report from the Select Committee on Innovation, Universities and Skills, which I chair, “The Work and Operation of the Copyright Tribunal”. The Copyright Tribunal is basically one man and a dozen different types of lawyer. That one man runs it in his spare time. He sits around trying to unravel copyright disputes between the people
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who made a work and the people who use it, who may think that the fine imposed on them is too high. Members might be interested to know that even undertakers appear before the tribunal for having downloaded music to use during ceremonies. It is a strange organisation, and the Select Committee makes some stringent comments about it and what might be done to improve it, not the least of which is that we cannot have one senior QC running it in his spare time.

One case cost £12 million to resolve. That makes it difficult for the small person who cannot get into that kind of network or a game involving forensic lawyers and lawyers of other dimensions. It is not possible. We must have some new copyright tribunal system, so that when disputes arise—hopefully we can eliminate many of them by other mechanisms; we have heard about some of what is going on with the internet—writers as well as people from the musical world have a fair shot. Orphan works whose source is hard to trace are another problem. The cost of cases needs to be cut and the administration of the tribunal needs to be overhauled.

This is an exciting time when, for once, we will be looking seriously at creativity. There will always be problems, but copyright is a problem that has been around for a long time. I do not have immediate solutions to it in terms of catching and punishing those who abuse it. We do so a lot through Home Office functions and so on, if people are downloading information. We need to consider whether we want to give people credit for the work that they produce and pay for it in some way. Both writers and musicians in this country have been undervalued for years and years.

I am so pleased that people interested in intellectual property are now calling meetings, including in this House. The Westminster Forum too will be holding one. So something is stirring. I think that Parliament, Ministers and Departments now need to get stuck in and help creativity. The industries will not survive or hit their potential unless we allow the people involved the right to get paid and to own their work. That is the way to encourage many more people into the industry.

I am continually amazed by the talent in this small island—it seems endless. I just wonder how much we fail it sometimes with the kind of structures that we set up and the laws that we put in place. How many people get turned off and say, “Well, there is no living to be made out of this, so I might as well do something else.”? There is a problem in higher education and if we do not watch out, we will lose much of that creativity.

3.50 pm

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr. Weir. I would like to refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests. We are hoping that MP4’s greatest hits, when it goes triple platinum, will also be put on the list, but that is probably a good while off.

The debate has been a long time coming. I cannot believe that, in the seven years that I have been in the House, we have not had a general debate about the creative industries. That is a total and utter surprise, given that the creative industries will probably overtake financial services as a major growth area of our economy. As the Minister said, there is £60 billion-worth of turnover and 1.9 million people work in the creative
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industries. Yet here we are, in the graveyard slot of Westminster Hall on a Thursday afternoon—the only time that we could secure for a debate on this really important part of our economy.

The Minister alluded to the fact that the UK’s creative industries do particularly well. International comparators are always difficult in the creative industries, but the OECD found that, compared with countries such as France, Australia, Canada and even the United States, the UK comes out top in terms of its contribution. Exports are huge—4.5 per cent. of our export turnover is in the creative industries sector. It is a massive industry. I would have thought that the Government would want to crow about that. It is a huge UK success story. I do not think that anybody in the Chamber would disagree with the fact that we are incredible innovators; it is something that this country does well. I would have thought that they would want debates every week on the subject. Yet here we are on a Thursday afternoon in Westminster Hall. Nevertheless, I welcome this important opportunity to debate the subject.

The term “creative industries” probably did not even exist 20 years ago. There was a creative sector, in which all the activities went on, but the idea that it could come together and be streamlined was way off. Even 10 years ago, we would have found it difficult to think about strategies for the creative industries. Five years ago, who would have imagined that we would be talking about the creative industries being an engine for urban Britain, which is alluded to in the Government’s strategy paper? We are where we are, and it is enormously important that we get things right.

The creative industries are in pretty good, robust health. However, they need to be sensitively handled. They are fragile industries and things could so easily go badly wrong. We saw that with the dotcom companies and a number of new technologies and media organisations. We must be careful in applying policies to the creative industries. They must be applied sensitively, with due care and attention and always in consultation with the industries.

We must be aware that there is always a healthy tension between the creators and artists, and the idea of industry. I welcome that. It is a good debate that we should kick about and explore a little—where that energy, dynamism, talent and artistry start and how the idea of business and industry fits in on top of that. It is important that we acknowledge and consider that when looking at the strategies and policies required for the development of our creative industries.

I am a little disappointed about how the Government look after our creative industries. What disappoints me more than anything else is that things seem to be haphazardly organised. For example, it is unfortunate that responsibility is split across a number of Departments. In the Select Committee report from the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), a number of stakeholders mentioned that we need more co-ordination within the Government when looking after the creative industries. It is not good enough that things such as intellectual property and copyright remain with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, but that cultural and artistic responsibilities reside with the Minister and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

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What might be even more disappointing is the fact that the Treasury likes to stick its oar in occasionally. We must remember that the Andrew Gowers review on intellectual property was Treasury-driven and reported back during the Budget. I happen to think that that is not the best way to look after such an important sector of our economy in need of such care and attention. I humbly suggest that we appoint a dedicated creative industries Minister, who could work across Departments and ensure that there is co-ordination and that the right thing is done to look after this very important sector.

I do not know what to make of the Government’s strategy. Do not get me wrong: there are lots of good things in it. It is a good start to trying to bring together such diverse and divergent industries. I welcome the ambition to make the UK the creative hub of the world. In fact, we are probably that already, although it is not down to anything that this or previous Governments have done; it is just something that we do well. I understand the ambition, although I think that we will need a little more than £70 million of investment if we are serious about meeting it.

A number of policy announcements seem to rehash things that have been said before. However, there is a lot of good stuff in the strategy. In particular, I welcome the measures for tackling internet crime and piracy, and we heard several significant and worthwhile contributions on that. I do not think that the problem will be resolved with a voluntary code. There is no chance of that happening, so I think that legislation will be required to tackle the problem. Again, it is critical that we get that right, particularly for our film and music industries.

Mr. Don Foster: The hon. Gentleman might be right that a voluntary approach will not work, but does he not at least applaud the fantastic work being done—rather belatedly—to develop such procedures? Is he aware that Apple is negotiating the possibility of a £10 top-up on the price of an iPod, which is the biggest downloading device, and free downloading, which could solve the problem overnight?

Pete Wishart: I recognise the efforts being made, although I am not sure that I would support Apple’s intention of putting a surplus on the cost of an iPod. That needs proper consideration. However, there are a number of initiatives and endeavours by internet service providers to tackle the problem. I get frustrated when I hear some of the public announcements by those ISPs that will do all that they can to thwart such efforts. They do not seem to be interested in engaging with the debate and tackling the problem.

I think that the Minister will have to legislate to get things right. I hope that, when legislation comes, we will also address the Whittingdale Junior issue—let us call it that. We must seriously and clearly get the message across that that is real crime. Stealing someone’s intellectual property is as serious and significant as stealing someone’s toaster, video or car. Even though it does not exist in a physical reality, it is still a crime. In framing legislation, we could have that debate and challenge such assumptions.

It is not easy for the Government, and I recognise the Minister’s difficulties. How do we properly legislate for creativity? At its heart and engine are imagination and
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talent. We must approach those things in the right way in our strategies. We would not have the creative industries without the musicians, authors, writers and inventors. It is impossible to conceive of the creative industries without them, so they should be at the heart of policy thinking and the first to be consulted when the Government develop strategies and approaches. It is unfortunate that sometimes they are the last people to whom we turn when looking at such issues.

It will not surprise the Chamber if I turn my attention exclusively to the music industry, which is particularly close to my heart and about which I have a few things to say. We must acknowledge what a success story the UK music industry is; it has decades of unparalleled success. The UK music industry has dominated charts on both sides of the Atlantic and worldwide. Again, it is something that we do spectacularly well. We must do all that we can to ensure that it retains its predominant status in the world. Everyone has their favourites, but there is something about the way in which we produce and look after artists that ensures that we have such fantastic products. That is very important and valuable to the way in which we look after the music industry.

The music industry is more than just general economics, the bands and the artists; music gives added value to all the creative industries, and even to the general economy. When people are asked why they have broadband access, for example, they say that it is to ensure that they can get the music downloads they want. That is one reason why people get involved in new media in the first place, and that is what the music industry can add to all those areas. The music industry, possibly more than any other creative industry, is a particularly fragile instrument and organisation. It exists on the front line of digital and technological innovation, and all the time it has to watch its back for pirates and all the other technological innovators who are doing all they can to ensure that they get something for nothing from the music industry. We must be ever-vigilant to ensure that the music industry is protected, and that is why I welcome the Minister’s strong words today to ensure that such people will be tackled.

The UK music industry needs our support, and I hope that the Government recognise its contribution and its critical role on the front line of technological and digital innovation, and that they will work with the industry to ensure that it is protected from such things. We must do more to ensure that we respect our artists and performers. I shall come on to term extension, but beyond that, it is important to ensure that our artists and performers are properly respected, acknowledged and rewarded for the work that they secure and achieve.

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