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Film Industry

Volume 489: debated on Tuesday 10 March 2009

“In the cinema, you dream with your eyes open.” Those words were spoken by Bernardo Bertolucci at the Edinburgh international film festival some years ago, and for me they sum up why we are having this debate. The film industry in the UK is important for a wide variety of reasons. It is important culturally, creatively, economically, technically and for many other reasons. At one end of the spectrum, going to the cinema is an enjoyable night out; at the other, this is a vital multi-million pound industry.

In Parliament it is our duty to ensure that we react quickly to changes in technology and in the criminal world to ensure that this important industry receives the protection and support that it deserves from its law-makers. We must ensure that, when required, we introduce the legislative changes needed to tackle copyright theft in all its forms. Today we are considering the impact of copyright theft on the film industry, but it is worth mentioning that it spreads into many walks of life in a wide variety of industries, from pharmaceuticals, where fake products can be a matter of life and death, to fake components for cars, which can have the same disastrous result.

In the creative industries, while we see those at the top of the trade on the red carpets and on television, there are many others who struggle to get by. They, too, should have their original work protected by law, so that they can be paid for what they have created; otherwise they will have no financial incentive to carry on.

In recent weeks and months we have seen the banking industry go into meltdown. Whatever the reasons, the results for many have been dramatic, with job losses and much more. My constituency has the global headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland and many employees from all the major banks. RBS has announced 2,300 job losses in the UK, with the chief executive confirming that in the longer term the number might be as high as 20,000. Although manufacturing industry has declined dramatically in this country since the war and other jobs have gone abroad, one shining light in the UK economy is the creative industries, and within that group the UK film industry plays a major part.

If anyone doubts the range of jobs involved, they have only to stay behind and look at the credits at the end of any film to see the endless list of creative and technical jobs and expertise that have gone into the production. Britain is recognised worldwide as the home of some of the best talent in the world today. The recent British Academy of Film and Television Arts and Oscar awards testify to that. I am thinking of “Slumdog Millionaire”, “The Duchess”, “Man on Wire”, Kate Winslet’s best actress performance and much more.

My own first visits to the cinema were for Saturday afternoon matinées in the Astoria cinema in the suburbs of Edinburgh, which sadly is now long gone. I have supported the Edinburgh international film festival for more years than I can remember. I would like to put it on the record that that is the longest continually running film festival in the world. I was introduced to the industry at college and then gained practical experience on documentaries, television work and much more.

It is estimated that the UK’s creative industries generate 2 million jobs, many of which are directly and indirectly involved in the film industry. Each year, the British audio-visual industry loses about £0.5 billion through copyright theft and the wider economy loses more than £1 billion. I congratulate the Minister on the fact that the Government have made some positive moves to tackle the problem. I shall refrain from listing those in my speech, as I have no doubt that he will do that when he replies to the debate.

The scale of the problem is clear. I was given a briefing paper by NBC Universal, which pointed out the magnitude of the problem. It said that the cost of piracy was an estimated £500 million. It also says that

“for every one legitimately downloaded film”

from the internet,

“600 are downloaded from illegal sites.”

It continues:

“A report…by Europe Economics in December 2008 estimated that 800,000 jobs in the creative industries are at risk as a result of…file-sharing.”

The briefing went on to detail the role of internet service providers. I have no time to go into that today, but I will say to the Minister that although he has taken action and the Government are considering the matter, it is still a worrying issue for many in the industry.

People can be prosecuted under the Fraud Act 2006, but that provision is simply not doing the job. I am not aware of any examples—perhaps the Minister is—of people who have been found guilty of camcording in a cinema. I was given one example in which an individual had been caught with a camcorder on a bracket on a seat in a cinema. He had gone into the cinema with four individuals, who were to his left and right and back and front so that what was being done would not be spotted. At his home there was video-editing equipment. However, the Crown Prosecution Service did not take the matter further because it reckoned that there was not enough evidence to prosecute. I would say, in my non-legal terms, that he was bang to rights and should have been prosecuted; the full weight of the law should have come down on him. We need today legislation whereby taking a camcorder into a cinema to record a film is a criminal offence. That would make it much simpler for the police and the authorities to prosecute.

Trying to take the matter forward through the Fraud Act involves proving that people will go on to produce fake DVDs and commit a fraud. The whole system is too complicated. As I said, to my knowledge no prosecutions have yet been brought to court, even when people have been caught redhanded. Can the Minister confirm that the Government not only are aware of the problem, but are willing to take the action required to ensure that enforcement measures are in place and that resources are allocated to tackle the problem?

A report produced by Oxford Economics to be launched later today, entitled “Economic impact of legislative reform to reduce audio-visual piracy”, goes into the issue in much greater depth. The Minister will be at the launch this afternoon at the stock exchange. I wish him well at the launch and I hope that he will make statements that help to convince the film industry that he and the Government are moving in the right direction.

One of the basic steps that I would like to be taken in the near future would be the introduction of legislation to make camcording in cinemas illegal. I argue that anyone who takes a camcorder into the cinema is not about to make a family film or something for their enjoyment at home. They are there for one purpose, which is to record the movie to produce a fake DVD or for some other dubious purpose. That was not a problem many years ago, when any reasonably high-quality camera was much more bulky than cameras are today, but now that high-quality digital cameras can be easily concealed, it has become a real issue. Camcording in cinemas is not a criminal offence, but it is the source of 90 per cent. of first-release fake DVDs seized and illicit film files on the internet.

It is amazing how quickly fake films can find their way on to the streets, with popular films now available within 48 hours of being premiered and sometimes even more quickly. People should be in no doubt that if they are offered a DVD of a film that has just been released in the cinema, it is a fake. Current films such as “Slumdog Millionaire” and last year’s “Mamma Mia!” are all too easily available. Films are particularly vulnerable when they are premiered in the UK. We in the UK are now the No. 1 source of illegal recordings of films in Europe. Sad to say, we have overtaken Russia. That is one title that we should try to lose as quickly as possible.

There is no reason to take a camcorder into a cinema. Those who do have made their intentions clear and should expect the full force of the law to come down on them. They should also expect the immediate loss of their equipment, which should be retained as evidence in any prosecution. I ask the Minister to give some indication today of whether he will join me and others calling for the change that I have described. He will not be on his own. He will know that when “Respect for Film” was launched as a pilot project in 2007 by the then Minister responsible for the creative industries, the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), the steering group included the Federation Against Copyright Theft, the British Video Association, the Motion Picture Association, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Walt Disney Studios, Warner Brothers and many more. There is no doubt that the major players in the industry are on board. Will the Government deliver what they need to deliver?

Camcording in cinemas is illegal in a number of other European countries, including France, Italy and Spain. I would be delighted to offer my support today and that of my hon. Friends if the Minister decided to make progress on this issue. I also plan to table an early-day motion today if he needs to be convinced that hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that what I have set out would be a change for the better.

Reducing copyright theft is about not only protecting those who are creative and those in the film industry, but protecting the public from inferior-quality goods, preventing people from being ripped off and reducing the money that goes into organised crime. Of course, many who buy illegally reproduced goods know exactly what they are buying. In that respect, I was surprised to find that 25 per cent. of the British population were involved in some form of unauthorised activity in 2007—from buying knock-off DVDs to illegally downloading music. However, many people who buy an illegal product think that they are buying the real thing, although what they get is a poor-quality film, with terrible sound, part of the screen missing and sometimes even the silhouette of someone who is heading off to the loo walking across the picture. That is not only a poor product, but it prevents people from experiencing the excellent, high-quality original products on the market. The prices of such products will always be higher, but people get what they pay for.

I mentioned money going into organised crime, importing drugs and worse. The exact sums involved are difficult to confirm, and the Minister may have more accurate figures than I do, but income generated from criminal activities is often used to fund other criminal acts. While some might feel that it is relatively harmless to purchase a dodgy DVD for the children, the money could end up funding the importation of drugs that end up on our streets and available to those same children. Late last night, I watched a programme on the state of the television industry, and copyright theft was mentioned. Even the makers of “Teletubbies” announced that 300,000 fake DVDs of the programme had been produced and sold. Those might seem like fairly harmless, family-friendly products, albeit not of the best quality, but the money from selling them can go into the pockets of criminals who use it for much more serious and harmful crimes.

Education is also at the heart of the fight against copyright theft, and I congratulate all those who have pushed for a wider awareness of the issue among the general public. That includes Members of this place, many of whom have raised such issues the past. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke), who is present, has a long-standing record of supporting the British film industry, and I congratulate him on that. In addition, few people will not have seen adverts by FACT in their local cinemas, and I also congratulate it on its tireless work on the issue.

However, much more needs to be done. Today, time has allowed me to cover only some of the key issues. One issue that I have not been able to spend much time on is the advance of technology and the role of internet service providers, which will clearly increase in importance as we move towards a digital age. Illegal peer-to-peer file sharing is expected to increase by 80 per cent. in the next two to three years. For the next generation, which will have instant access to broadband, such activities will become a daily event. Another problem, as I mentioned, is that many people who are stealing copyright material have no idea that they are doing so and do not really think about it. None the less, their actions have a major impact on the industry, jobs and creative talent in the UK.

I hope that the Minister will take this debate as it was meant—as part of a positive attempt to raise an important issue. I accept that the Government have made moves in the right direction, but more still needs to be done to ensure that copyright theft in the UK is reduced and that the British film industry continues to go from strength to strength.

I thank the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) for raising the important subject of film copyright. I absolutely agree that this is an important debate to have in the House, and the issue should be at the forefront of the minds of the many people across the country who enjoy film and cinema. In the past few weeks, such people will have taken great pleasure from Kate Winslet’s success in this country and at the Oscars in America, as well as from the success of Danny Boyle’s film “Slumdog Millionaire” and the rise of Dev Patel. Such developments say something about the talent that we have in this country.

I also applaud the hon. Gentleman for his continued advocacy of the Scottish film industry and his close involvement with the Edinburgh international film festival. Like the cinema industry in the rest of the UK, the Scottish film industry has prospered. In the past few years, it has produced huge triumphs, from “Gregory’s Girl” to “Trainspotting” to, most recently, “The Last King of Scotland”. There are also many lesser known but still significant successes.

As has been said, the film industry continues to contribute to much of the Scottish economy and the British economy as a whole. In 2006—the last year for which we have figures—the British film industry turned over £7 billion. I therefore fully share the hon. Gentleman’s appreciation of the importance of safeguarding the film industry’s contribution to this country’s well-being, both financially and in terms of the many thousands of jobs that it supports, particularly in these difficult times. That is why the problem of film piracy should concern us all.

The economic loss that piracy causes the film industry can be calculated in a number of different ways. The UK Film Council, which has produced a briefing note for the debate, adopts a maximalist approach. It has looked closely at the impact on cinema ticket sales and arrived at a cost of just over £500 million. It also says that 15 million people in this country have at least one pirated film.

I do not want to question those figures today, but one thing on which we can all agree is that this is a significant problem. That was brought home to me when I attended a raid in north-west London in November with police, representatives of FACT, trading standards officers and others. During that raid, more than 60,000 counterfeit DVDs with a value of £185,000 were seized, including pre-released titles that were not yet in the cinemas. All those titles were in a terraced street typical of others in London and, indeed, the country.

What I saw also brought home to me the complex nature of this crime. Among the DVDs in that household were some very obscene illegal DVDs. That links to the organised criminal activity of those who produce such things. Many of those titles would not have been granted certification in Britain. Of course, such things are at the extreme end of the spectrum. It is true to say, however, that people can be encouraged or seduced into camcording a film in a cinema and that their activities can then relate to, and extend to, the huge organised trafficking of films that are sold not just in this country but around the world, and that can happen overnight.

The UK Film Council report also highlights key areas in which it wants legislative reforms. I thought it would be helpful if I spoke to the main ones. I know that some in the film council are keen to introduce specific criminal legislation on camcording. The hon. Gentleman mentioned that in his speech. As the council’s report acknowledges, the Government are seeking a test case to take forward under the Fraud Act 2006. I remind the House that section 6 of the Act provides that a person should not be in possession of articles

“for use in the course of or in connection with any fraud.”

Clearly, a camcorder in a cinema is probably not there to record the happy experience of attending the cinema with pals. It is right to consider closely the possibility that the device is there to be used in fraud or in connection with fraud.

Does the Minister accept that a problem in using section 6 is that the Act is relatively recent and has not been shown to be effective? Something much simpler is needed so that more effective prosecutions can be brought, because until that happens there will be no deterrent and the business will carry on.

I understand what the hon. Gentleman says, but the Act was passed in 2006 and we are now at the beginning of 2009, and he will understand that the judicial process takes some time. There has been a relatively short period in which to come to the conclusion that he has reached. He talked about not being aware of any other cases in the system. I am advised that there was a case in the system, which was dropped, largely because of the age of the perpetrator. It is important to see where the test case gets us.

I accept that it has been three years since the Act was passed, but there have been no prosecutions in that time. I know that the youngsters who were not prosecuted were about 14, but if we have got to the stage at which 90 per cent. of first-release DVDs originate from camcorder recording, and there have been no prosecutions in three years, the evidence is fairly clear that something is not working.

I have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I think that a relatively short period has passed. It is important to consider carefully how the Act bears down on the issue. I remind him that, were we simply to make taking a camcorder into a cinema a criminal offence, that would be a strict liability offence. That is serious under the criminal law, because it would not be necessary to establish criminal intent.

The area is an important one that we should examine closely. That is why we are working in partnership with the Federation Against Copyright Theft, the police, trading standards and of course the Intellectual Property Office. I know there is some frustration about the lack of visible progress by the Government on issuing a consultation to assess the need for legislation to cover occasional sales and markets. One is aware that throughout the country, in all sorts of Sunday markets, such DVDs are on sale. It is a complex area and we need to ensure, particularly in more difficult economic times, that we strike a balance between tackling the sale of counterfeited and pirated goods and making sure that we do not deter market organisers and others, including schools and charities that run fêtes, from engaging in legitimate activities in some of our most deprived areas.

There have been calls for us to strengthen our damages legislation. That is being looked at as part of a broader review of the law on damages. We need to make sure that any system of civil damages is not only robust but workable. The Ministry of Justice has said that it hopes to publish a response to the consultation in the near future.

The hon. Gentleman raised the important issue of online and physical copyright infringement, which raises strong feelings in the industry. Here again, it is important to take concrete but proportionate action. The Government will shortly be publishing the response to the consultation held last year on matching penalties for online and physical copyright infringement and will be seeking to raise the maximum fine to £50,000 for all intellectual property offences. Clearly I do not want to prejudge the outcome of consultations on “Digital Britain” and associated legislation, but we will be making announcements in the coming days.

Good law is good, of course, but proportionate, enforced laws are better. In the case of online infringement, we are not introducing the jail terms that some in the industry have called for, but I think that the measures we propose will offer an effective deterrent to fraud that stops short of putting even more pressure on overcrowded prisons. The balance that we must strike is between better deterrence—a better way to get the internet service providers and the film industry to work together—and recognising that access is part of the zeitgeist, and that young people want immediate access to film, in the way they want. How should we work with industry to get monetised solutions but create an environment in which the vast majority of the relevant activity is within the law and we are not condemning young people to unnecessary enforcement or sentencing?

That is the balance we need, which we shall be striving for post-“Digital Britain” and the associated legislation that will come out of it. It is also the reason I am setting up an interministerial group on enforcement, so that I and colleagues in other Departments, such as the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office, can continue with the discussion across Government. The issue affects other Departments.

I know that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the fact that something is a priority for me as Minister with responsibility for intellectual property does not mean that it is the No. 1 priority for Ministers who have other criminal activity to deal with. Let us have the discussion in the correct forum, and find the means to take the matter forward. I hope to make progress with what is an important issue, which greatly affects the British economy, as well as the way we all enjoy film.

As the hon. Gentleman said, my next engagement will be the “Respect for Film” event, to which I look forward. I am grateful that he has brought this important issue to the House this morning.