Anti-piracy body is set to lose 50% of its funding within six months.

FACT logo

The UK’s leading trade body working to combat piracy – the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) – faces an uncertain future following the decision of one of its largest members to withdraw its support.

The Motion Picture Association (MPA), which represents the international interests of the six major Hollywood studios, recently informed FACT that it will not be renewing its membership in six months’ time, bringing to an end a 30-year relationship between the two bodies.

The MPA’s contribution to FACT represents 50% of the organisation’s total budget, with the remaining 50% made up from members including the UK Cinema Association, the Film Distributors’ Association and broadcasters such as ITV.

Speaking to Screen, Stan McCoy, the MPA’s president and managing director for EMEA, explained that it had withdrawn its funding from FACT as part of a wider strategy to focus its operations in regional hubs rather than in specific territories.

MPA logo

The MPA has its EMEA headquarters in Brussels, where it also runs its own in-house anti-piracy team, and efforts will now be primarily concentrated there along with “a nimble local presence and a direct relationship with local law enforcement” in specific territories.

McCoy praised FACT’s work over the last 30 years, saying that the organisation’s efforts “have been vital to creating the environment we enjoy now in the UK where creative industries are flourishing”.

However, he cited the changing nature of piracy, specifically the reduction of physical infringement and the growing threat of online, as a challenge that requires “a more flexible approach” than the one currently operating.

“We live in a world now where a piracy website can have its nexus in Sweden one day, then move in a few months to Eastern Europe, then to Thailand, or it can operate in all three of those jurisdictions at once,” commented McCoy.

A regional hub-based approach would make it easier to meet that challenge, said McCoy, who also noted that the MPA used to work with “dozens and dozens of national content protection bodies” across EMEA, but is now involved with fewer than 10 in the region.

Describing the UK as a “vitally important market”, McCoy insisted that the MPA will continue to work on the ground by taking action against illegal websites via high court blocking orders, working with the Film Distributors’ Association (FDA) on in-cinema security measures, and by an increased relationship with PIPCU (the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit, run by the City of London police) through its Operation Creative initiative, which aims to disrupt unauthorised access to copyrighted content.

A statement from FACT’s director general Kieron Sharp read: “We have been informed that the Motion Picture Association (MPA) is withdrawing its membership from FACT. We are currently exploring all possible options for the future.”

When reached by Screen, FACT declined to add further comment at this time.

Mark Batey, chief executive of the FDA, emphasised to Screen that “FACT has done very well for this industry” but that he understood the MPA’s decision as “a reflection of the changing nature of digital piracy”.

“The internet doesn’t recognise borders, there’s an inexorable logic in this. It feels like a more joined-up way to tackle the issue from the point of view of international rights holders. It’s a reflection of the world we work in,” he said.

Phil Clapp, chief executive of the UK Cinema Association, highlighted that his organisation was assured that “FACT’s work with cinemas will continue” but that they “would be concerned if the decision by the MPA to withdraw funding resulted in a reduced capability within the UK to tackle the online distribution and sharing of illegal content.”

FACT has been in existence for more than 30 years, working to combat copyright infringement in various forms, including in-cinema recordings and the distribution of online piracy. Its board members are now meeting to discuss its future following the drastic funding pull.

Piracy stats

The Industry Trust for IP Awareness has released its annual figures (compiled by ICM) analysing the state of copyright infringement activity in the UK.

These revealed that 23% of consumers admitted to accessing unauthorised film and TV content in 2015 – the same level as in 2014 – with 48% of those citing ease of access and 46% citing prohibitive pricing as their reasons.

The figures will be formally announced at the CREATe Industry Copyright Education & Awareness Symposium in London today (May 24).

News of the MPA’s decision was originally reported by Cue Entertainment