During the summer the UK government announced a new inquiry to investigate what needs to be done to “maintain and enhance” the UK’s position as a global destination for film and television production.
Conducted by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the inquiry invited submissions from stakeholders on numerous topics, including the identification of barriers to maintaining and increasing overseas investment. The UK currently encourages production in the UK through the provision of a generous tax relief framework which has paid out billions to companies ultimately owned by overseas entities.
The Committee sought input on what more could be done to further incentivize production in the UK. In their submissions, companies and their industry groups appear very keen for these financial incentives to continue, but many other areas are highlighted as either problematic or in need of attention.
For the major Hollywood studios of the MPA, IP protection and piracy remain key issues.
Motion Picture Association
The MPA’s submission notes that the UK’s film and television sector has enjoyed record levels of investment. However, if the country’s position as a “creative and economic powerhouse” in audiovisual content is to be sustained, the government and entertainment industries must work closely together.
The UK receives praise for its intellectual property framework, with the MPA describing it as a “gold standard internationally.” For balance, the MPA notes that the government should avoid steps that might undermine IP protections, in response to the challenges presented by AI, for example.
“The good reputation of the UK’s treatment of copyright exceptions was threatened in 2022, when the Government proposed, as part of its national AI strategy, to introduce the new exception to copyright to include the training of AI models for ‘any purpose’,” the MPA writes.
“Companies and organizations, across the creative sector, joined by Parliamentarians, were united in their concerns about these proposals. Thankfully, the Government listened, and decided in February 2023 not to ‘proceed with the original proposals’.”
Well Done, Please Do More
Submissions by the MPA and member studios Warner and Paramount individually, praise the UK for its work fighting online piracy.
For example, the availability of no-fault injunctions under section 97A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act has allowed Paramount to mitigate the threats presented by pirate sites. Once again, the term ‘gold standard’ is used. The studios also appreciate the work undertaken by the Police Intellectual Property Unit (PIPCU) in tackling pirate sites and services.
Warner highlights the Intellectual Property Office’s work in bringing together the creative industries and digital platforms to better understand online infringement, and then take action. For example, the IPO helped broker a Voluntary Code of Practice that saw links to infringing content removed from the first page of search results. It also facilitated roundtables leading to preventative measures, including the removal of piracy tutorials from YouTube.
Inevitably, however, more can always be done.
MPA: Enforcement “Increasingly Difficult” in UK
While the same problems exist all around the world, the MPA’s submission to the Committee could be mistaken for highlighting problems specific to the UK.
“The MPA’s experience (and that of other rightholders) of dealing with online infringement in the UK has shown that the growing complexity of investigating and tracing sources of illegal and infringing activity online is making the enforcement of IP rights increasingly difficult,” the MPA reports.
“While there are a range of industry and law enforcement-led initiatives to tackle digital piracy, one of the greatest challenges remains the absence of reliable information on those commercial-scale pirates who are freely using legitimate business infrastructures – such as online hosting, advertising, payment processing and e-commerce platforms – to deliver illegal film and TV services.”
The problem is highlighted by the MPA, and separately by members Warner and Paramount. The former’s summary appears below:
Despite extensive use of the tools already available in UK law to try to trace the operators of illegal services, experience shows these efforts are being thwarted by the ability of criminals to provide commercial services online under a cloak of anonymity, from anywhere in the world.
Often online intermediaries (who provide the infrastructure that enables the illicit services) cannot supply any information that leads to the verification of the illegal service provider. That, or the information they can provide has clearly been stolen, falsified, is incomplete or otherwise misleading. The ease with which bad actors can remain anonymous in their business transactions facilitates digital piracy and potentially other crimes perpetrated online, including acts of digital fraud.
The submissions are united in identifying the same solution to this problem: the UK must implement a ‘Know Your Business Customer’ regime to compel commercial entities (including online intermediaries) to establish the true identity of their business customers as a precondition for selling, and receiving payment for, digital services.
In-Theater ‘Camming’ is a Threat to UK Exhibition Sector
When people record movies directly from cinema screens and then distribute copies online, the damage that does to the exhibition sector’s period of exclusivity has been reported for decades. As Warner’s submission explains;
“Films continue to be recorded in cinemas, both in the UK and other territories, and those illegal copies are distributed online for free via pirate sites and services during the films’ theatrical window. This illegal competition harms the ability of exhibitors to generate revenues, as well as harming the distributors and producers of those films. It is important that this threat is addressed via robust and effective enforcement actions,” the company notes.
The statement doesn’t break any obviously new ground but seems to skew the UK’s position towards the negative, which given recent performance isn’t entirely fair.
By noting that films are still illegally pirated in cinemas “in the UK and other territories” that discounts the achievements reported just last month by the UK’s Film Content Protection Agency, a group that both Warner and Paramount help to finance.
“90% of films pirated worldwide are sourced from cinemas, yet the UK and Ireland has not had a cammed film (a film illegally recorded in a cinema) traced back to its shores for over a year,” the FCPA reported.