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The UK’s IP Tsar must do more than represent IP owners

It’s an age-old dilemma for governments: they want to take advice from those with real-life experience but they don’t want to be seen to be beholden to sectoral interests. So what does the appointment of Mike Weatherley as an adviser mean for IP?

Last month UK Prime Minister David Cameron chose Mike Weatherley as his IP adviser. There are a lot of reasons why the appointment was a good decision. Weatherley has a strong track record in IP management and knows what he's talking about.

Before becoming a Conservative Party MP three years ago, he was vice-president (Europe) for the Motion Picture Licensing Company. Before that, he worked for Pete Waterman – one of a trio of high-profile producers that helped launch the musical careers of Rick Astley and Kylie Minogue. As the organiser of Rock the House, an event that attracted 500 or so musicians to the Houses of Parliament, Weatherley undoubtedly has an extensive contact book.

In an interview with Managing IP, Weatherley said his new role is to act as a bridge between the copyright industry and the government: feeding ideas from the former to the latter and explaining government policy to business.

His appointment comes as music and film industries have become particularly nervous about the government's commitment to the Digital Economy Act, a controversial piece of legislation rushed through in the final weeks of the Labour government in 2010 whose implementing rules have been the subject of a number of consultations, legal challenges and delays.

Two years ago, for example, the government ditched plans to block alleged copyright infringers' access to the internet. This summer it said it that proposals to send warning letter to those same people would be delayed until late 2015.

So Weatherley's appointment looks like a canny political move to mollify impatient IP owners (it was announced, after all, on the day Cameron hosted a meeting of senior record industry executives).

But the government needs to ensure it is not seen as being in the pocket of big business. That's how activists regarded the governments that backed the ACTA deal – and everyone knows how that turned out.

The signs are encouraging. As an IP insider, Weatherley knows how the digital revolution put copyright-intensive industries on the defensive. He told Managing IP that IP owners need to embrace new business models and recognise that the world has changed. They also need to explain why IP protection is important ("I have told people from industry they need to get off their backsides and make their case," he said). The MP also pledged to speak for consumers as well as rights owners.

But that commitment needs to be followed through. Of course many rights owners would argue that the two are fully compatible: that the strong IP protection demanded by copyright owners ensures the availability of high-quality content for consumers. But Weatherley must be seen to be more than the ears and mouthpiece of the record and film industries in government if he is help ensure the Digital Economy Act – and other legislation – is respected and enforceable.

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