Something old, something new, something borrowed and some things totally ignored
UK Political Parties recognise the value of the UK software sector with a series of policies designed to drive growth
The Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) has welcomed the recognition of the importance of the UK software sector in the Election Manifestos launched this week by the main Westminster parties.
FAST itself launched its own manifesto prior to the election: “The UK Software Industry: a Manifesto for Growth” which contained a series of policy initiatives that it wanted to see the main UK political parties commit to in their own manifestos.
Alex Hilton, CEO of FAST, commented: “We developed a detailed ten point action plan that we firmly believed the UK software sector would be looking for from the political parties at this General Election. It is a collection of ideas and priorities, some highly focused, others much broader; some old and some new; some borrowed from each other and some issues completely ignored. Overall the sector should be broadly pleased with the commitments made but we have to point out that there are some glaring omissions. We are delighted to largely align to the debate and interested in the policy priorities as set down in the party manifestos."
“Detailed analysis of the main political parties manifestos appears to point to a degree of lip service to the technology sector, with a host of old and recycled ideas, a number which sound great but give no detail on how they will be implemented, or they just ignore the sector. There is one notable exception: The Liberal Democrats, which have announced a slew of new policy initiatives aimed solely at the technology and digital arena, recognising that “The UK’s digital sector is growing at a rate of over 10% a year, employing nearly 1.5m people. 15% of all new companies last year were digital companies.”
So how did the main parties respond to the FAST ten-point plan?
- Encouraging R&D
FAST called for incentives not just for R&D but also for investors in tech companies here in the UK so that the companies in turn can expand and grow into overseas markets.
Conservative pledge: “We will also treble our successful Start-Up Loans programme during the next Parliament so that 75,000 entrepreneurs get he chance to borrow money to set up their own business. We will raise the target for SMEs’ share of central government procurement to one third, strengthen the Prompt Payment Code and ensure all major government suppliers sign up.”
“We will invest new capital on a record scale - £6.9 billion in the UK’s research infrastructure up to 2021….we have boosted research and development tax credits and we will continue to support our network of University Enterprise Zones, ensuring that Britain’s world-beating universities are able to make money from the technology they develop.”
“We will direct further resources to towards the Eight Great Technologies – amongst them robotics and nanotechnology – where Britain is set to be a global leader. We have developed a network of catapult centres – R&D hubs in the technologies for the future.”
Liberal Democrat pledge: "We will double innovation spending in our economy to make the UK a world leader in advanced manufacturing, clean technology and digital industries."
Verdict: WIN for the sector as a whole.
- Extending connectivity
FAST called for improved broadband connectivity, without which the Internet economy will struggle to develop at the pace it could. Dependant on this is in particular access to and the benefit of cloud computing power and data storage.
Labour pledge: “Labour will ensure that all parts of the country will benefit from affordable, high speed broadband.”
Conservative pledge: “We will secure the delivery of superfast broadband in urban and rural areas to provide coverage to 95 per cent of the UK by the end of 2017…we have set an ambition that ultrafast broadband should be available to nearly all UK premises as soon as possible,”
Liberal Democrat pledge: Complete the roll out of high-speed broadband to reach almost every household (99.9%) in the UK as well as small businesses in both rural and urban areas.
Verdict: WIN. FAST is delighted to see this vital commitment being made by all three leading political parties in Westminster.
- Building on the legal framework
FAST believes that the law needs to be drafted with one goal: in order to instil certainty. Businesses need certainty to invest and innovate, which is why FAST is calling on lawmakers to ensure that the UK has and continues to offer a suitable and advanced IP regime.
Verdict: No overt reference in any party manifesto and FAST will continue to focus its energies on giving the next Government advice and guidance in this area as it is fast moving as technology evolves.
- Support a vigorous IP regime
The IP education report, researched and produced by Mike Weatherley, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Hove and Portslade, and former Intellectual Property Adviser to the Prime Minister, 'Copyright Education and Awareness’ needs to be addressed and implemented.
Conservative pledge: “We will protect intellectual property by continuing to require internet service providers to block sites that carry large amounts of illegal content, including their proxies. And we will build on progress made under our voluntary anti-piracy projects to warn internet users when they are breaching copyright."
Liberal Democrat pledge: “Pass a Digital Bill of Rights, to define and enshrine the digital rights of the citizen."
“Safeguard the essential freedom of the internet and back net neutrality, the principle that internet service providers should enable access to all lawful content and applications regardless of the source, and without favouring or blocking particular products or websites.”
Verdict: Partial WIN. FAST is concerned that this remains a recycled commitment and that nothing new is being announced by either the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats. Voluntary codes of conduct are preferred. Web blocking is seen in the Tech Sector as the last resort. Furthermore, the Digital Bill of Rights needs to be looked at in close detail as it is as yet largely undefined.
- Muscular law enforcement
Back in 2006, The Gowers' Review on Intellectual Property recommended that the enforcement regime should be both ‘effective and dissuasive’. In 2009, the Ministry of Justice’s Response to Consultation on The Law of Damages recognised that it is “currently possible to acquire licenses for software applications after an infringement has been discovered without any penalty being imposed.” Since that time nothing on this has changed and there is still a notable lack of legal deterrence of corporate use of software out of compliance.
Verdict: No overt reference in any party manifesto and it is FAST’s contention that this should have been addressed by all the political parties as this needs to be actioned.
- Balanced digital content consumer law
FAST has always welcomed the development of law to bring it up to date and, as such, has been working closely with the Government as the Consumer Rights Bill has gone through the Parliamentary process. This is now law.
Verdict: Partial WIN. As The Liberal Democrats stated: “We have radically overhauled consumer rights law, making it simpler and clearer and for the first time protecting consumers buying digital content.”
FAST played a critical role in forming the legislative framework on digital content, securing a critical amendment for the software sector in the final draft of the Bill. However, FAST believes that the definition of Digital Content could be a step too far in being applied to cloud computing. The next Government should address this.
- Maintain investment in PIPCU and championing Trading Standards Enforcement
FAST fully supported and endorsed the setting up of the Police IP Crime Unit (PIPCU) by the City of London Police. It is now time to have a national debate on how Trading Standards, given the cuts, can be organised on a regional and/or national basis to remain an effective fighting force to drive out rogue traders and IP crime often operating through cyberspace.
Verdict: No reference to enforcement at all in any party manifesto and FAST believes that this is a major oversight. This is not a technical issue, it is about protecting consumers, ensuring a level playing for business and it needs to be addressed.
- Implement Article 4 of the EU Enforcement Directive
FAST called on all political parties to support its call to give organisations such as FAST Representative Rights under Article 4 of the EU Enforcement Directive. This would allow organisations such as FAST to act directly on behalf of software vendors, including to protect their IP rights as a representative collective allowing publishers to continue unimpeded in their commercial activities and not to be the aggressor necessarily in pursuit of a pirate.
Verdict: No overt reference in any party manifesto but this remains a cornerstone of FAST’s philosophy.
- Sensible data protection
The EU is still debating the issue of upgrading the Europe wide Data Protection regime and FAST is calling on all political parties in the forthcoming election not to overlook this and ensure that the UK is not burdened with an overzealous regime, which acts against economic growth for all businesses where the internet has no geographical boundaries.
However it is only the Liberal Democrats that are making a pledge on personal data via its plans for a Digital Bill of Rights
Verdict: The outcome of this debate is intrinsically linked to the issue of EU membership and the possibility of an in/out referendum. However the Lib Dem Digital Bill of Rights needs to be considered carefully in light of the expected EU Data Protection Regulation.
Conservative pledge: Referendum after renegotiation in 2017
Labour pledge: No referendum
Lib Dem pledge: No referendum
UKIP pledge: Immediate in/out referendum
Green pledge: Supports a referendum
- Deterrence and accountability
FAST also believes that company Directors need to be held more accountable under the criminal law for simply knowing about illegal software use in the business but at present they cannot be pursued personally under the current criminal copyright provisions unless a high legal bar is passed proving they were the controlling mind behind the activity. FAST is pushing for company officers to be made more accountable accordingly.
Verdict: No overt reference in any party manifesto but this remains a cornerstone of FAST’s philosophy to ensure compliance matters in trading fairly.