News | Published December 14 2019

Rise in book piracy gives weight to Williams Powell’s call on government to keep UK at forefront of IP laws

The development of new technology over the years has culminated in new challenges for the legal industry concerning property rights, such as patents, trademarks, designs and intellectual property. This is no more truer than in the film and music industries, where illegal downloading of content has caused significant losses for the sectors.

Williams Powell, a boutique London firm of British and European patent and trademark attorneys, raised this issue in The Parliamentary Review.

One of the firm’s partners, Robert Jehan, said: “There are continuing challenges, most recently in the film and music industries where copying by illegal downloading results in significant losses to these industries throughout the world. Currently these industries are seeking technical solutions to stem their losses, but ultimately, they need to be protected by enhanced legal provisions.”

However, in Jehan’s view, the UK is in a very unique position to implement new, up to date legal frameworks to protect these industries and set a precedent for changes in the law elsewhere in the world.

Jehan said: “The United Kingdom, with its strong parliamentary mechanisms and strong judiciary, is ideally placed to conceive of and implement updated legal frameworks that could assist these industries and lead to global law changes.”

Such intervention is equally needed in other industries, for it has recently become apparent that the illegal download of books is proving a bane to the publishing industry and leaving authors out of pocket.

The UK government’s Intellectual Property Office estimated that as of March 2017, 17 per cent of ebooks were illegally downloaded. Generally, those downloading them illegally tend to be from better-off socioeconomic groups, and aged between 30 and 60.

A survey issued by the Guardian in late 2018 looking for information on experiences with piracy received 130 responses from readers aged between 20 and 70. Most of them regularly downloaded books illegally for a range of different motives, ranging from the cost of buying books to the convenience of free download.

Piracy websites make material from anywhere readily available for download at any time and the industry is losing out, but fixing the issue is no simple matter.

The legal and technical aspects of book piracy prevention evolve regularly, but this presents an opportunity for the British legal sector to flex the muscles of innovation.

Already, there are organisations such as the Publishers Association trying to keep up with pirates by hosting a central portal to deal with infringements, but they cannot battle the issue alone. The Publishers Association, like Williams Powell, also believes that the government is in a position to give more assistance to the industry, as are search engines and internet service providers who can more effectively police pirate content, be it a film, a song, or a book.

The Intellectual Property Office itself has claimed that the UK has one of the most effective regimes for IP enforcement, and that proposals “will developed to address” what it calls “deficiencies in the current legal provision”.

Jehan shares this belief that the UK has been at the forefront of developments in intellectual property laws for many years, calling on the government to maintain that position.

Jehan told The Review: "The United Kingdom has for a very long time had the enviable position of being at the forefront of developments in intellectual property laws. Our government and supporting legal services should strive to maintain this position as it can be of significant benefit to the United Kingdom, not only now but also in the future.

"Our courts and also our parliament have often been innovators in intellectual property laws, something that should not be forgotten. In the late 1980s the United Kingdom transformed copyright law and many of the concepts of that law change have been adopted by the governments of other countries.”

Should the UK government lend the assistance necessary and enable the legal sector to protect the film, music and publishing industries and keep up with evolving pirate techniques, the opportunities, as Jehan suggests, could be great.

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Authored by

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
December 14 2019

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