The raw material of creative industries

The UK is wondering how to foster its creative industries. My advice? Get into p2p, open source, and relaxed copyright.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
2 min read

Victor Keegan asks a poignant question in The Guardian:

...[I]s there anything we can do to encourage the recent success of our creative industries - which now account for 7.3 percent of GDP [in the United Kingdom]... - or should we just lie back and let luck take its course? Creative industries - embracing Harry Potter, galleries, plays, advertising, publishing, television, computer games and so forth - are becoming vital for the growth of the economy with manufacturing in decline and the financial services industry suffering turbulence from which it may not fully recover.

Unfortunately, he largely comes to the wrong conclusions about how to bolster such creativity. Keegan argues that broadband and increased math and engineering emphasis in schools may well do the trick, but this is misguided.

The fastest road to a more vibrant creative class is to foster laws that protect people's native creativity. What sort of laws? Look at Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley penalizes conservatism and rewards risk-taking. It does this through an investment class that makes capital plentiful and laws that reject anti-compete agreements.

These would be good starts for the UK. While not as bad (or good, depending on one's perspective) as continental Europe for protecting workers to the point of coddling them into an unproductive conservatism (Ever tried to lay someone off in France? Good luck, no matter how poor their performance), the UK places too much emphasis on protecting individuals from competition rather than on protecting a macro competitive framework.

But the real driver for UK competition and, frankly, for competition within the creative class everywhere, would be to alter its burdensome intellectual property laws. While not as bad as the United States because it does not recognize software patents, the UK faces the same crippling fetish for long-term and broadly interpreted copyright law as the United States. This needs to change.

Why? Because new creative industries are founded on the back of the old creative industries. The creative mantra du jour is "remix." The distribution mantra du jour is "peer to peer." The UK, like the US, needs to stop trying to squelch these efforts of the teeming masses of creatves, yearning to be free.

One good indication of how the UK feels about the creative class is how it treats open-source software. The US and Europe are in wholesale adoption mode right now. The UK? Not so much. Open source is a clear indicator of how much priority a government puts on disruption and innovation in IT versus stagnation and status quo. The UK has largely voted for stasis with its IT budget.

So, if the UK really wants to unleash creativity and innovation, it needs to end its paternalistic protection of old industries and instead open the gates to truly "fair use" of copyright and increased adoption of copyleft. Creativity doesn't happen in a vacuum. It is founded on the old world.