European DMers Fear Assault on Intellectual Property

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The International Direct Marketing Fair was held May 9-11 in London. Like a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, the 2006 U.S. Trade Mission for Direct Marketing Delegation was intrigued by the sound of the English accent, as well as the content of what we heard at Europe's largest DM conference.

Longtime industry friend Malcolm Whitmarsh has run the London DM Fair ably for more than a dozen years. This year's event was moved from its normal late February/early March time slot to early May.

Topics discussed on the exhibition floor included the [British] Labour Party's worst showing in an election, local or general, in 23 years; the attack on intellectual property laws in Sweden and France; and the surge in online sales in Europe.

Despite high unemployment and slow economic growth, Europe remains full of potential for U.S. online and direct marketing firms. In the past 22 years, the number of international telephone calls made annually between the United States and Europe has climbed to 7.4 billion from 200 million. Yet, more than half of U.S. merchandise Web sites still do not offer delivery outside the United States.

The Brits are enjoying the best economic growth in "Old Europe" but are still amazed at the strength of our economy. E-commerce is surging in Europe, however. Online sales in France soared 53 percent, and in Germany another large increase of 24 percent is expected in 2006.

This year's London DM fair was combined with Britain's largest online marketing conference and exhibition. People could tell when they went from one conference to the other only by looking at the carpet beneath their feet as it went from blue to purple.

The buzz among online marketing executives was the fear of new legislation in France that would reduce the penalties for intellectual property theft to a mere traffic fine.

Couple this with the Pirate Party in Sweden - I am not making this up - whose candidates want to weaken copyright laws and roll back government legislation on IP in general. Sweden is home to one of the best-known providers of pirated films, music, computer games, software and media. This Web site, called Pirate Bay, is controversial but legal in Sweden.

In France and Sweden, legislators on the left want to reduce IP protections to five years from the current 25 years. Online marketers at the show agreed this time period does not offer incentive to invest in innovation if it can be taken away so quickly.

This is particularly true for Europe's small and midsize firms. These firms, many of which exhibited at the London fair, are the backbone of Europe's creative industry.

Meanwhile, the schedulers of direct marketing conferences have to get their acts together. This year's IDMF took place the same week as the ACCM show in the United States and ended five days before the start of the annual DM conference in Canada. This reduced interest and attendance from U.S. attendees and exhibitors.

All in all, it was another successful year at IDMF, with 12,000 attending the event at the famous Earls Court in London. As the markets are ever changing, so are the lessons we take from this event. This year's speeches and discussions were informative on the topics of intellectual property, the increase of online sales and the poor turnout for Tony Blair's Labor Party. I look forward to see where the market takes us next year.

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