Throughout my time as Intellectual Property Adviser to the Prime Minister I always sought to raise awareness of how damaging online piracy is to the creative community and to the UK.
A key part of my role has been to work with industry and Government to adopt effective measures to address this issue. Although we have made some significant steps in the right direction, far too many of the films, TV shows, music tracks, books and sports broadcasts people consume online still infringe copyright.
In a series of reports I have outlined some specific areas that need to be addressed; we must cut off the revenues that illegal sites make from advertisers and payment processors; search engines must work with rights holders to stop directing consumers to illegal sites; and we must educate consumers about the importance of respecting copyright online.
We have made some encouraging progress on some of these issues, particularly through the work of the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU). However, as I step down from this role, it is vital that we do not lose momentum.
A recent reminder of just how much there is still to do is provided by a report compiled by NetNames, commissioned by the Digital Citizens Alliance, which found that the top 30 "cyberlockers" (online file storage providers) generate nearly $100 million (£62 million) a year from stolen creative work. The most shocking aspect of this is these rogue websites are facilitated by major credit card companies and carry lucrative advertising, often from well-known brands.
The report also finds that these sites have average profit margins of 63 per cent, which is far in excess of what companies who legally produce or distribute such content can hope to generate. This is grossly unfair, and as long as this continues it will force those legal services to operate at a competitive disadvantage to criminals.
The report calls upon these intermediaries to make amends by withdrawing their involvement with cyberlockers. I agree wholeheartedly. PIPCU is already working with the advertising industry to address their role in supporting these sites and it is vital that the whole industry engages in this process. It is clear that some payment processors also need to step up to the plate and ensure that they do not do business with these criminal enterprises.
Meaningful action by advertisers and payment processors will directly impede the ability of cyberlocker owners to gather revenue, generate profit and, ultimately, prevent the propagation and spread of infringing material across the internet. Together with a more proactive approach from search engines as well as education initiatives from Government and the creative industries themselves this can make a real difference. We can and must address this issue to secure the long term future for our creative industries.
Mike Weatherley MP is former Intellectual Property Adviser to the Prime Minister.