Last summer it became evident that police in the UK would be taking a greater interest in the activities of torrent, streaming and other sharing sites. Announcing the creation of the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), last year City of London Police said that sites would be pressured to step into line, close, or face the consequences.
The unit, which has already claimed the scalps of several smaller domains, including the forced shutdown last week of a handful of sports-stream related sites, has been active on various fronts. In addition to putting registrars under pressure to close domains, the unit is also working with advertisers in an attempt to cut off advertising revenue.
PIPCU is good news for rightsholders in several ways, not least since the anti-piracy battles of groups such as the BPI and FACT are now being partly financed by the UK taxpayer. PIPCU is currently funded by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills’ Intellectual Property Office, to the tune of £2.56m over two years.
The funding, which was allocated on a temporary basis, will expire in 2015 if the government doesn’t allocate additional finances. It could fall back into private hands, but that would mean a significant loss of ‘clout’ for the companies relying on PIPCU’s authority. However, if the UK Prime Minister’s Intellectual Property Adviser has anything to do with it, that won’t happen.
In a letter to David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May, Mike Weatherley MP praised the “excellent work” of PIPCU and urged the funding of the unit on a permanent basis.
“I appreciate that funding for this new unit is not permanent. However, I would like to put on record my support for committing future funding to fighting IP crime and boosting the current level of financial support that is available for PIPCU,” Weatherley wrote. “As I am sure that you are aware, the creative industries add over £70 billion to our economy each year and so it really is in our national interest to protect that revenue.”
As previously reported, PIPCU is currently focusing on cutting off ad revenue to ‘pirate’ sites. Speaking to fellow Conservatives, Weatherley said if that could be done the effects would be dramatic.
“If we stop advertisers from shoveling money into illegal sites, we can stop a lot of the content. Possibly as much as 95 per cent according to the newly formed national Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU),” Weatherley said.
“If you value the NHS [National Health Service], you should also value IP and our creative industries, as together they help pay for the services in this country that we all cherish. If we take the wrong approach, national services that we take for granted will have a huge budget shortfall.”
There are currently no formal indications that PIPCU will get the permanent funding it needs to continue its work but considering the backing it has among the music and movie industries (not to mention the Prime Minister’s top IP advisor) it seems unthinkable that a couple of million a year won’t be found from somewhere.