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PA's PA 25th September

PA's PA 25th September

Welcome to this week’s PA’s PA in a week in which the party conference season was kicked off with a rather depleted band of Lib Dem MPs arriving in Bournemouth for the party’s annual conference.  However, while the number of elected representatives may have been dramatically reduced, the Lib Dems themselves reported record numbers in attendance.  Is #libdemfightback about to become a reality?  The Labour Leader reinforced his anti-business credentials by announcing he will not be attending the Business Day at his party conference and the Prime Minister discovered that the only thing more furious than a woman scorned is a Peer and former party donor.   

Digital Single Market update

The two consultations we have been expecting from the European Commission have now been published: the snappily titled Geo-blocking and other Geographically-based Restrictions when Shopping and Accessing Information in the EU, and  the Role of Online Platforms in the Digital Economy.  On geoblocking, the Commission’s press release alludes to a major victory for the content industries, stating that the consultation “covers, for example, customers who are charged different prices or offered a different range of goods depending on where they live, but it does not cover copyright-protected content and content licensing practices” (emphasis added).  However, the questionnaire still makes reference to digital content asking, amongst others, whether rules prohibiting traders to refuse the cross-border download of digital products (such as software or video games) would constitute an element of a policy response at the EU level on unjustified geo-blocking and other geographically based restrictions.  We will discuss this potential contradiction with our colleagues in Europe and across the creative industries.   

The online platforms consultation (which very much mirrors the inquiry announced by the House of Lords sub-Committee and mentioned in last week’s PA’s PA) makes good on the promise to look at the definition of intermediaries and their potential liability as regards to illegal content and considers further ways to tackle illegal content on the Internet.  Importantly, it also covers the impact of some platforms' relative bargaining power when negotiating the terms and conditions with other market players (particularly SMEs or content providers), as well as in some cases the dual role of some platforms, acting both as marketplace operators and suppliers competing with some of their customers in downstream markets, a clear warning shot to GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple).  The one note of caution, however, is that the question from the leaked draft regarding the opening up of data held by private entities to promote its reuse by public and / or private sector remains.  Both consultations run until late December.   

Digital economy

Continuing this, and last, week’s ‘consultation’ theme, a further inquiry has been announced by the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee into the Digital Economy.  With a broad scope, the inquiry seeks to understand more how government actions affect businesses in the digital economy and consider what the government can do to ensure that the UK can play a leading role in taking advantages of digital technologies.  The Committee specifically asks what the major barriers are to UK business success in the digital economy and,  in a nod to the Committee Chair’s (Iain Wright) continued interest in intellectual property, whether the UK’s IP regime provides effective protection.  We will be taking advantage of this consultation to raise not only issues relating to online infringement but to promote the recommendation from our Manifesto designed to incentivise creative firms to develop the next generation of digital workers via a Digital Skills tax Incentive.  Submissions close 29 th October. 

Higher education

HEFCE has announced, following a request from Jo Johnson MP, the Science and Universities Minister, to delay publishing its consultation on the next Research Excellence Framework (REF) until after the spending review due to be announced in November.   Their press release explains that while they know that institutions are keen for the arrangements for a future REF to be confirmed and communicated in a timely fashion given how early clarity on a future framework will alleviate uncertainty in the sector, enable institutions to focus preparatory activity efficiently, and allow wise investment decisions to be made, it was felt that a short delay will enable the sector to provide responses that are informed by the outcomes of the spending review. 

Literacy and Reading for Pleasure

The government and Education Secretary continues to get behind the campaign to encourage children to read as a key way of driving up levels of literacy in the UK.  Accompanied by David Walliams, Nicky Morgan visited a London primary school  and said: "If a child fails to learn how to read - the consequences can be nothing short of devastating, holding them back for the rest of their lives.  I am absolutely determined to make sure that every child, no matter where they live or what their background, learns to read, to read widely and to read well - giving them the best opportunity to get on in life.  In fact, we're going further than that - in the next five years, I want children in this country to become the best readers in Europe”.  She also used the visit to announce that her department was exploring with ‘a number of publishers’ how to make collections of classic [out of copyright] novels available to schools at minimal cost.  The campaign also includes, as previously announced, a partnership with the Reading Agency to create at least 200 new book clubs across England and a push to get every eight-year-old enrolled at their local library. The BBC reports on the visit here.   

And finally…

The PA, in conjunction with Creative Skillset, Creative Access and EQUIP hosted a workshop on diversity in publishing. The event revisited research from Spread the Word, explored the theme of unconscious bias and examined case studies from the industry.  Revisit the action at this Storify 

This week we have:

Met with Adam Tickell and discussed the review into Open Access he has been asked to undertake by the Science and Universities Minister; following last week’s demos, discussed plans for further joint lobbying activity in Brussels on TDM with STM, ALPSP and PLS; attended the board meeting of the Copyright Hub; discussed potential joint public affairs activity with the Association of Authors’ Agents; met with the World Book Night Advisory Group; hosted a workshop on diversity in publishing. 

Next week we will be:

Taking the political temperature at Labour’s Party Conference in Brighton; forming part of a FEP delegation to the Commission’s Copyright Unit to continue our discussion on potential changes to the education exception.