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Volume 475: debated on Monday 12 May 2008

1. What recent discussions he has had with publishers and others on the protection of copyright in relation to the creative industries. (204448)

My Department has held two publishing seminars, involving the Publishers Association and the Independent Publishers Guild, among others. In addition, I have recently met representatives of the British Library, the British Phonographic Industry, British Music Rights and the Advertising Association.

The Secretary of State will know that demand for e-books is growing. Penguin made as much on e-books in the first two months of this year as it did in the whole of 2007. How does he hope to protect the nascent development of e-books from peer-to-peer and other piracy involving internet service providers?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important question. New technology, of which e-books are a good example, can help us to enjoy music, literature and culture more freely, and that is to be celebrated. However, there is a genuine issue to do with the illegal sharing and downloading of material to which he alludes. It is already causing serious damage to our creative industries, particularly the music industry. Our first preference is for rights holders and internet service providers to reach voluntary agreements about access to content. I must say that I am disheartened by recent comments from within the ISP community to suggest that providers do not have any responsibility for illegal downloading. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that jointly with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, we will shortly publish a document that includes options for legislation if voluntary agreements cannot be secured.

But is my right hon. Friend aware of the anger felt by the community of writers, especially freelances—creative artists—about the swindles that deny them their property: their copyright? Mainstream papers, especially left-wing newspapers, are the worst culprits in that regard. We on the Labour Benches are short of a few votes; there are scores of thousands of people whom we could help. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet a delegation from the recently formed all-party writers group? I am its vice-chairman, although I have not yet published any memoirs or diaries, and have no money that results from such publications in the bank account. Will he agree to meet members of the all-party group to discuss how we can be fair to the writers, creative artists and journalists of Britain, and get them all to vote Labour?

I certainly accept my right hon. Friend’s invitation, and I look forward to receiving his recipe for our return to popularity when I meet him. I repeat that these are incredibly urgent questions, not just for writers but for creators of all kinds in our society. We have to come up with ways to ensure that the creative process is respected and valued in the online world. If we cannot come up with solutions, we face the risk of damage to sectors in which Britain has traditionally been strong for many, many years. We all need to apply our minds to the issue with some urgency, and come up with solutions that are fair to industry and, crucially, to the creators of the high-quality content that people want.

I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s comments about the importance of copyright, and particularly his commitment to putting pressure on the ISPs to address the issue of illegal file-sharing. When he comes to look at the proposed copyright exception for format shifting, will he accept that the ways in which consumers enjoy music and video are different, so the proposals might be appropriate for the music industry, but not necessarily for the video industry? Will he listen carefully to the video industry’s representations on that point?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s opening remarks, and I thank him for his general approach on the issue; I think that we can strike a lot of common ground. I have read the report that his Committee—the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport—produced on the subject, and it raises incredibly important points. He is right to say that the internet has affected creative industries in different ways. Music has been the first in line to be affected; other industries have had more time, presumably because their files are larger, so it is harder to get the same traffic in file-sharing. I will apply a careful mind to the questions. We want to ensure that we have proportionate systems in place in all sectors. Coming up with solutions that protect our creative industries is absolutely at the top of my in-tray. If we do not do that, we risk doing serious damage to the industries in the short term, which will damage the country in the long term.

Tonight I will be chairing a meeting of the London branch of the National Union of Journalists, called to discuss the issue of copyright. What messages does my right hon. Friend have for journalists, who see themselves as particularly threatened by the new technology and want some reassurance?

There is a balance to be struck, is there not? It is a good thing that people can freely access information and the work of writers, but we must get the balance right. I urge them to read the Gowers review of intellectual property, which the Government commissioned and on which we have been consulting. The answer is always in voluntary solutions. All of us would prefer voluntary solutions that are proportionate and balanced, but I say again, in line with recommendation 39 of the Gowers review, that if such solutions fail to emerge, we will legislate. As a sign of our intent, we will shortly publish a consultation document containing some of those options.

Has the Secretary of State had time to consider the proposal from Commissioner McCreevy to end the historic discrimination against musicians and increase term copyright for sound recordings from 50 to 95 years? Is he prepared to back that enthusiastically and do the right thing for UK musicians and the UK music industry, to end the ludicrous situation where musicians lose payments in their old age?

I still have an open mind on the matter. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Gowers review did not back the extension in the same way as Commissioner McCreevy has done. I think I am right in saying that he is due to issue his detailed proposals in the summer. I will examine those proposals closely and take a view about whether it is in the interests of the music industry to take them forward. As I said, there is a balance to be struck between protecting the creative process and rewarding performers as well as composers, and creating a disincentive for any industry to invest in new and emerging talent, which none of us would want. That balance always needs to be struck.

I do not know whether the Secretary of State, like our right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), a marvellous journalist in his own right, saw The Guardian last Thursday, where Stephen Fry wrote that the BBC executives were naive in believing they could control the distribution of programmes online via their iPlayer service. I am sure the Secretary of State is aware that the BBC seems to be throwing out valuable content free of charge, which shows a naiveté about how the internet works. Will he comment on the article and that vulnerability?

I have not had a chance to read the article, but I will look it up, following my hon. Friend’s question. I would issue a note of caution. The iPlayer is proving incredibly popular extremely quickly. We have all paid for the content as licence fee payers, and there is a strong argument that we should be able to access it at our own convenience. I understand my hon. Friend’s point that it could undermine public service broadcasting in the long term if we allow people to access that content through other formats and they end up not paying a licence fee, but the BBC is to be congratulated on introducing a service that is already proving highly popular.

On the subject of protecting our creative industries and copyright, the Secretary of State is aware that nine out of 10 illegal films that come on to the market do so as camcorded videos. America, France, Italy, Russia, Spain and the Czech Republic have all made camcording a criminal offence. The Cinema Exhibitors Association says that the UK is becoming

“an increasingly safe haven for illegal camcording”.

Will the Government take urgent action to protect our film industry and ban camcording in cinemas?

The hon. Gentleman correctly says that that is an important issue for the film industry, and that the industry would like camcording in cinemas to be made a criminal offence. He is right to warn us that the improving quality of such films makes this an issue that we need to tackle. We have asked the industry to provide further evidence to support the case for action. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State is due to meet the industry shortly to discuss the matter further. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. We will consider any evidence that is produced, but in line with the general theme that I have adopted in response to all the previous questions, we see it as a top priority of the Department to protect the creative process and ensure that the people who create the content that we all want to see are properly rewarded for that work.