Copyright policy in the UK: an evidence-free zone

The UK Open Rights Group has released a report on the way that the UK government approaches copyright policy, in the wake of the government's recent plaudits for the UK film industry's online offering. This matters because the UK government's position is that the film industry constitutes a major part of the British economy, and it has done everything it can to present legitimate avenues for watching film online, so the ongoing illegal download problems mean that government must intervene with extraordinary measures like a national censorship regime that blocks websites that the film industry dislikes.

But ORG's research, along with Freedom of Information requests, show that, on the one hand, the film industry's online offerings are overpriced and underserviced; and on the other hand, there is no evidence to support the claim that the industry is suffering as a result of "piracy." The "evidence" in the government's web-blocking plans is purely anaecdotal, self-serving, and belied by actual facts.

* Excluding iTunes, only 27% of the BAFTA Best Film award winning films from 1960 to 2011 are available to rent or buy online, with only 29% of the50 best British films.
* Only 6% of the best 50 best British films are on Film4 OD or Virgin Media. 14% are available through a LoveFilm subscription and 4% through pay per view on LoveFilm.
* Including iTunes, still only 43% of the top 50 British films can be bought or rented online, with the figure at 58% for the BAFTA Best Film award winners.

As well as problems with availability, prices online do not compare favourably with DVDs:
* For the best selling DVDs from August 2011, the average price on was £6.80. For iTunes purchases, of the films available through its service, the average price was £8.88. For blinkbox purchases the price stood at £9.49. * DVD prices at for the BAFTA winning films average at £5.84, whilst on iTunes the average price stands at £6.72


We have had a response to a Freedom of Information Act request that we made to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. In the request we asked for evidence they hold on the scale and nature of infringement of copyright by websites and on the efficacy of different strategies for dealing with it. They told us in their reply that they don't hold any.

(Disclosure: I co-founded the Open Rights Group, and sit on its unpaid advisory board. I receive no compensation, direct or indirect, from my work with ORG)


  1. And yet it probably won’t be long until we hear the old government line that piracy is costing the media industry £400, 000, 000 a year.

  2. I know there is a corporate defense speech for keeping the digital product (that is easier to manufacture, store and distribute) at a higher cost than the physical product, despite the often proclaimed risk of people looking for better (and easier) alternatives that would net zero income for the company.. I just can’t think of one.
    Can anyone link me to a marketspeak defense for this? I’d honestly appreciate it.

  3. Just a pretext for increasing control over the internet by government and big business. They won’t let facts (or lack thereof) inconvenience them.

  4. Given that we already ‘know’ that the commercial music lobby bought a number of peers — they actually WROTE part of the current act! — why the hell aren’t we picketing london and demanding the heads of our MPs?

    …Oh, wait.  We are.  But not about this.

  5. I guess this is what you get for supporting David Cameron.  Or, rather, what we call got because of your support of David Cameron.  [“You” being Cory’s faction of the Liberal Democrats].

  6. “Now I don’t have the facts to back this up, but the British film industry lost 100 000 000 jobs last year due to piracy”

  7. @Stephen Linhart
    Although I understand you might not like a particular political party, this sort of thing goes on *whoever* is in power. It seems to be the nature of politics that being well informed is certainly not a requirement for being in power, and this, sadly, is universally exploited.

  8. Do I prefer Labor over the Tories?  Is this a trick question?  Look at voting records not rhetoric.  “New Labor” is more conservative than the Labor party was.  But they don’t hold a candle to the Tories.  If they did, the racists and bigots from the Conservative Party would defect to Labor.  These arguments, that they’re all the same, or kick out the current scoundrels (ignoring who they’ll be replaced with) ignore the fact that there are real differences in voting records.  If the choice is between a conservative Labor Party and a VERY conservative Conservative Party, it makes no sense to support the Conservative Party because you think Labor is too conservative.

  9. Note: I’m not saying all Conservative Party members are racist bigots.  I’m saying that if there was a more conservative, viable alternative, it is the racist bigots who would jump ship first.

  10. Of course they don’t hold any details.  They don’t need to.  The people paying them will happily feed them completely accurate figures to back up any and all legislation they’ve written.

    Sorry, it might not be as overt bribery as we see in the states but our politicians and civil servants are just as corrupt.

Comments are closed.