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The CREATive gap

“CREATe will bring a fresh approach to the creative industries . . . Our vision is that successful copyright reform must be based first of all on incentivising innovation from SMEs and individual creators as the true incubators of change and growth.”

It would be difficult to imagine a statement which was as simultaneously patronising, offensive and plain muddled as that with which CREATe last week announced itself to the world.

Its presumptions are many. Note how established, large, successful British creative companies are written out of the picture from the outset—this research project claims to know what is “true” before it has even begun. Mark how the need for copyright reform is judged to be a starting premise, another ab initio axiom, adopted before a single stroke of work has been done. See how the creative industries (with their £36bn-plus turnover and more than 1.5 million jobs contribution to the British economy) are condescendingly declared to be in want of a “fresh” approach (many of our competitors would surely kill to have as decaying a creative sector as that of the UK).

Also, marvel at the irony that the main thing most successful British creators say they need most support with, their copyright, is the very thing which most of the characters behind this project spend their time undermining.

If this is meant to be a serious attempt at objective and dispassionate analysis (and, to be fair, we should assume that it is) it is easy to see why it is being treated with scepticism by so many people across the creative sector.

But perhaps we should not look this academic gift horse in the mouth. After all, what could be better than having a collection of intellectuals, and the Open Rights Group, sitting in a room and working out how our businesses could be better run? Perhaps they could even come up with a “New Business Model”, that holy grail of the creative copyright world (clearly none of the new business models which the British creative sectors have come up with in the past 36 months count in this analysis).

Furthermore, the really great thing is we will get all of this well researched advice for free. The creative businesses which stand to gain from this intellectual engine room don’t have to pay for the privilege of this work being done, nor its research outputs. (Actually, strictly speaking it’s not free because the taxpayer will be picking up the tab through the government’s funding of the Arts & Humanities Research Council. But in this time of austerity and deficit-driven belt-tightening, it is difficult to imagine any fair-minded tax payer begrudging the right of academia to hypothesise a future for the UK’s revenue-raising creative businesses.)

It should also be noted that CREATe is being cheered on by the IPO, the backers of the Hargreaves Review of IP which so derisively chided the industry for lacking robust evidence: oh, wait . . . that’s the very same report in which the economic evidence was recently said by members of a Parliamentary Select Committee to be “flimsy”.

There is another reason for us to perhaps be more welcoming of this initiative. The British taxpayer’s largesse is laying on a veritable hot house of intellectual expertise which could conceivably recommend policies which are beneficial to our supposedly ossified sector. After all, it is a principle of academic research that it be entered into with an open mind. And happily, because practically none of the panel of researchers have any direct experience of working in the sector—dealing with the day-to-day problems of turning a profit, securing investment, tackling copyright infringement, identifying exciting new talented writers and artists, confronting an unfavourable economic environment, battling with foreign internet intermediaries exploiting works without paying for them—then there will be no danger of them advocating any tried and tested approaches, and their conclusions can be clear and unsullied by contact with the commercial realities of life.

Perhaps we should look forward to their conclusions.

Richard Mollet is chief executive of the Publishers Association.