Starving the creative pirates

Should children be taught about intellectual property in schools? Would that make them realise why watching a pirated film or listening to illegal music downloads is like stealing money from someone’s purse? That is the debate the UK will be having soon. Earlier this week UK Prime Minister David Cameron endorsed a report that says intellectual property or IP education should be a part of school education. It is the third report on piracy by Mike Weatherley the conservative MP for Hove and Portslade who was till recently the IP Adviser to Cameron.

From television shows to films and music, piracy damages millions of Indian artistes, technicians and creators. When creative work gets pirated, it is the people lower down who lose both money and opportunities. Representaion pic/Thinkstock
From television shows to films and music, piracy damages millions of Indian artistes, technicians and creators. When creative work gets pirated, it is the people lower down who lose both money and opportunities. Representaion pic/Thinkstock

If you put together the three reports that Weatherley has brought out Follow the Money, Search Engines and Piracy and recently Copyright Education and Awareness a new, path-breaking approach to fighting piracy in creative industries emerges. The UK is a net exporter of creative industries such as music and television. It is in fact one of the world’s biggest creators of television formats such as Britain’s Got Talent or MasterChef. What happens on the piracy front therefore matters a lot to the UK economy.

Weatherley’s work however is of interest to India too. Its position as one of the biggest content creators and consumers in Asia is financially perilous in large part because of piracy. From television shows to films and music, piracy damages millions of Indian artistes, technicians and creators. When creative work gets pirated, it is the people lower down who lose both money and opportunities. Since the legal revenues never reach their true size, it cuts down the royalties, fees or commissions that artistes or other talent gets. And the studios and recording firms either don’t renew contracts with them or renew them on crappy terms because their albums are not ‘legally’ successful.

Weatherley suggests tackling piracy at two levels. “In the short term it is disruption, which is what the Follow the Money and Search Engine reports are about,” he says. Follow the Money and Search Engines and Piracy, in essence, say that by pushing pirate sites down in search results you could choke their revenues. In October this year, Google implemented some of these by changing the way it ranks sites that are searched. This means that in a search result, if a pirate site comes up, Google will push it down the ranks if it has been notified that this is a pirate site. In the place of pirate or illegal sites that rank above the legal ones, Google now shows direct links to Netflix, Spotify besides other legal sites. This has led to a huge decrease in downloads on BitTorrent, a popular pirate site.

Deranking then ensures that they are starved of advertising revenues, which is the main source of income for pirate sites. “The vast majority of illegal sites make money. If you take the advertising out of the illegal sites, 95 per cent of them would disappear,” says Weatherley. The UK has coupled these two moves with a dedicated police force, the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit or PIPCU last year.

In the long term though, it is copyright education that will help reckons Weatherley. “About 20-30 years ago, people in England would drink and drive and it was ok. Now it is no longer a cool thing to do because we have been educated; there is peer pressure. And that is what you need to fight piracy to win hearts and minds,” he says. And to do that it makes sense to showcase younger, talented artistes who lose money every time you download their music from some Russian site, thinks Weatherley.

This ‘carrot and stick’ approach, as Weatherley calls it, is an experiment worth watching.

The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik

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