Saskia Walzel (Consumer Focus UK)


I work for Consumer Focus, a watchdog operating in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I should say that I wasn’t born digital, I was born analogue and I made the transition to digital in my early teens, so I’m one of the oldest people who could qualify as a digital native. I’ve got four half-brothers, they are aged between 13 and 18, I have no idea what they are doing. But I would suspect it’s not P2P file-sharing; that’s about ten years old.

I’ve been reflecting on what the panelists have said, and I have been working on copyright policy for the past four years, dealing with the digital economy act, the music industry, the film industry, to some extent the publishing industry, it’s not really the small businesses and the creators who resist the change to digital, it’s the big companies, who are already running a monopoly and are in a position of power.

If you look at music, because music is always the canary in the coalmine in terms of the position on the digital, I don’t think what was really disruptive to the records labels was P2P file-sharing, what was really disruptive to big record labels was they lost control over the distribution, which they used to enjoy. Digital distribution itself is what the artists and the record labels jump on, because for the first time in history, they had direct contact to the consumer, they could sell to the consumer, they didn’t have to rely on a big record label to put them in a record shop.

So, I think the role of copyright infringement has been overplayed. It’s really digital distribution that is going to play the key factor in what makes digital so different from analogue. I think Charlie’s potted history of ebooks was very good, because when we look at the time frame of innovation and change. Amazon yesterday announced their profits, they’re doing very well on ebooks, the chief executive said, ‘We have been in this ebook market for five years now and finally we’re seeing results.’ I mean, that’s basically 2008, and who in 2008 was really willing to throw a lot of money at this to try and make this work. And I think the role of CREATe should be very much in terms of trying to give a higher profile to those who innovate, so the creators and small businesses will instigate things. Try to give a higher profile to it, try to allow people to understand what they are doing and what the potential is of what they’re doing, and also assisting large companies in terms of changing their business models and also commercializing their innovation.

I used to work as an environmental consultant and a lot of change within big companies is driven by one or two individuals. If you work as a consultant to big companies, it’s about assisting those individuals to try change within the business and to explain the potential of a lot of this.

I think finally, reflecting on the digital economy act, I think something that should be mechanized, is when you look at the digital and overall music sales in the UK, over the last two years, the French equivalent of the Digital Economy Act has been in operation. Over the past two years, in the UK, the music industry achieved a bigger increase in sales and digital sales, than the French music industry. So, we should look at what is actually the impact of Hargreaves, how much does it cost, and does it really lead to increased sales. I would disagree with one aspect of what you said; in the UK, music services are successfully competing with free, if you have ever used P2P file-sharing, you will know how crap it is, how difficult it is to use. The Pirate Bay, the reason it became so mainstream and so famous is because they are apparently easy to use, and using the Pirate Bay is not even very easy. So, from that perspective, it is possible to compete with free, and I think that’s where the creative industries should focus on, rather than saying we have to get rid of copyright infringement, until we get rid of all these brilliant services which everybody wants, because if you want to successfully migrate people from copyright infringement to legal services, the services need to be online in the first place.

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