Politics: Bootlegs pose new Labour dilemma

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The Independent Online
Even popular, well-considered policies are coming under scrutiny as Labour fights to clean up after the Formula One sleaze allegations. Steve Boggan examines one announcement that typifies the problems now faced by the Government: just because party donors will benefit, does it mean new policies are wrong?

There was loud applause in the music industry yesterday with the news that Labour was planning a far-reaching review of copyright law to combat record piracy. Bootleg recording sales cost record companies more than pounds 19m a year, while the threat from pirates in Asia and China and from potential Internet raiders could take the total far higher in the new millennium.

But while the champagne corks were popping, it was hard to turn a blind eye to the influence exercised over Labour policy by two music industry insiders, Alan McGee, owner of Creation Records, and Lord Levy, former owner of Magnet Records and M&G Records.

One, Mr McGee, donated pounds 50,000 to Labour Party coffers shortly before the election and was appointed to the Government's Creative Industries Forum after the Labour victory. The other, Michael Levy, is on the party's four-strong fund-raising committee and was elevated to the House of Lords when Tony Blair moved into No 10.

In the current climate, it is easy to see how some eyebrows might be raised. Oasis, Creation's biggest stars, must be among the most pirated bands in the world; the new moves must surely benefit Mr McGee. Lord Levy sold M&G last month but has been in the music industry for more than 20 years. He boosted Labour funds, aggressively promoting Tony Blair's blind trust.

But what if they did influence the party on copyright law? Could anyone criticise safeguarding artists' intellectual property rights and protecting the pounds 3.4bn in exports they generate?

The music industry was amazed that anyone could see the move, announced by Chris Smith, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, as anything but positive. Steve Redmond, editor-in-chief of Music Week magazine, said: "Successive governments have failed to connect with intellectual property industries ... Chris Smith and Labour seem to be making up for that."