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Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit

Volume 779: debated on Tuesday 28 February 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have committed to continue funding the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit.

My Lords, the Government recognise the important role that intellectual property plays in protecting and supporting investment and creativity of all kinds. The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit plays a vital role in disrupting the activities of those engaged in intellectual property crime. There is no question about the Government’s continuing commitment to the unit. The Government are in the process of discussing how the PIPCU should be funded in future. We shall make a statement in due course.

My Lords, “In due course”? We are one month from the beginning of the financial year of this internationally renowned and hugely successful unit in the fight against intellectual property crime and it is still waiting to hear whether it will continue to be funded and to what extent. This is a cause of huge concern to specialist police officers as well as to the wider creative sector and other industries. This is a disgrace. Does it not demonstrate that the Government are not taking intellectual property protection and enforcement seriously?

My Lords, I reiterate what I said in my Answer to the Question: we are fully committed to funding PIPCU. As the noble Lord knows, when PIPCU was set up in 2013, the intention was that the Government would fund it for a short period of time and that subsequently it would be funded by the rights holders as the insurance industry organised itself. This is not the case, so we are having to look at alternative means of supporting the unit. However, as I have said, those who work in PIPCU need have no concerns about whether the Government are fully committed to it.

My Lords, I declare my interests in both policing and trading standards. Could the Minister tell us how many prosecutions this highly successful PIPCU has carried out in the past year and what proportion of those prosecutions was directed at the producers and wholesalers of fake goods, as opposed—simply and more easily—to those caught trading in counterfeit goods?

My Lords, I cannot give him the figure offhand. The figure of 57 rings a bell with me, but I shall have to check the number and write to the noble Lord. I can tell him that between March 2014 and December 2016, PIPCU shut down 11,000 websites selling counterfeit goods and 1,300 websites infringing copyright—so it has been extremely active. But I shall write to him on that point.

Yesterday the Minister showed that he has deep concern for disadvantaged people. Surely he can be more sympathetic to the Liberal Democrats about their loss of intellectual property.

Returning to the main subject, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware, the police intellectual property office is also responsible for the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau—also widely regarded as being a terrific service which we would be sad to lose if there were funding problems. I visited it as part of my secondment with the Metropolitan Police—a scheme that I recommend to all Members of the House as giving an insight into the way the police operate. However, this goes back to the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. Without certainty as to funding, there will be very damaging implications for crime. This crime needs to be stopped at source and this is the main unit to do so.

The noble Lord makes a good point. Of course, certainty is very important, but I draw the House’s attention to the fact that the US Chamber of Commerce rates our IP enforcement as number one in the world, as does the Taylor Wessing global IP index. We are doing a great job, so let us not beat ourselves up too much about this. We need to resolve this uncertainty about funding but we are doing an excellent job.

My Lords, in the second quarter of 2016, 51 million pieces of film and TV content were accessed illegally according to the IPO. The Government have said that they believe that this illegal activity is covered by existing laws. If that is the case, why are there so few successful prosecutions for illegal access?

My Lords, I think this issue was debated during consideration of the Digital Economy Bill, and I understand that the noble Lord and others wanted to see it addressed in that Bill. Our feeling is that existing laws are sufficient and that, in any event, this matter could be addressed outside the Bill. I believe that we are putting out a call for evidence on it from users to absolutely nail this point, but I am a little hazy about this area, so I will write to the noble Lord, if I can, after today.

My Lords, rising above the considerable intellectual property of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, perhaps I may come back to the Minister on the question of commitment. He says that he is committed but that could mean £1 or the full budget asked for by PIPCU. Is he committing to a level of funding no lower than the previous level? Is that what he is really saying?

My Lords, I think that since PIPCU was set up we have spent about £5.6 million on supporting the unit, which I believe has 20 full-time policemen, detectives and others. We are certainly committed to that sort of level of funding for PIPCU.