The inside track—insights into the media sector with Stephen Godsell

Today sees the first of our 'inside track' industry interviews. In it we chat with Stephen Godsell, group counsel & company secretary at the PA Group, the parent company of the Press Association:

How did you come to work in the media sector?

My background is as an intellectual property lawyer at a City law firm. As effective management and enforcement of IP rights is almost always of strategic importance to businesses in the media and technology sector, it was a natural fit for me to focus increasingly in this area—first in private practice and then in-house.

What attracted you to this particular area?

The media sector (particularly news media) plays a vitally important role in society, keeping the public informed and holding power to account. It is also undergoing fundamental structural changes, as it deals with the changing ways in which people use and interact with content of various types. This throws up interesting business and legal challenges, which in turn makes it a fascinating sector to be working in now. The central importance of intellectual property was an added attraction.

How does this fit into your career history?

I trained and worked as an intellectual property lawyer at Clifford Chance, where I represented media and technology clients among others. The work included resolving disputes around trademarks, patents and copyright, negotiating commercial arrangements and advising on M&A deals.

I was there for around six years, when an opportunity came up to move to The Economist Group. The group was increasingly focusing on developing its digital strategy, while also diversifying into a range of information, data and other businesses in the US, UK and elsewhere.

After five years there, I moved to my current role as group general counsel & company secretary of the PA Group (the parent company of the Press Association) where I manage a team of lawyers who advise on all legal aspects of the operation of the business.

What do you think are the key challenges and opportunities facing the media sector?

On the legal side, a consistently big challenge is the misuse of copyright content, which is probably more prevalent now than it has ever been before.

More generally, a key challenge for many companies in the sector is continuing to adapt business models to support the gathering, creation and analysis of news and media content. The demand for quality content is undiminished—in fact, if anything, it’s greater now than it has been in the past. The challenges lie in finding the best ways to monetise it, while tailoring products to make the most of changing technologies. One of our core challenges is to continue to find better ways to support our customers, as they adapt to these changing times.

How do you see your industry developing over the next five years and beyond?

I think technology will increasingly change both the way content is created and delivered and the way we identify and respond to its misuse. At the Press Association, we’re experimenting with automated systems to find and deal with copyright infringements of text and images in a cost-effective way, which is looking promising.

Have you seen any changes to your client base?

As our customers adapt their businesses, we too are finding ways to adapt and diversify ours. We continue to support and serve our media customers (adapting our products better to do so) while now serving a range of non-media customers. We are also investing in complementary business areas, most recently by acquiring an 80% stake in UK digital copyrighting and content strategy agency, Sticky Content.

How do you view the provision of legal advice in the media sector? Is there anything you’d like to change?

There are some excellent firms and lawyers practising in the sector. One area where there is always room for improvement—including among in-house lawyers—is in developing a genuinely in-depth understanding of the businesses and industries we advise. In sectors subject to rapid change, like media and technology, this is particularly challenging and important. There is also clearly scope for legal services to be provided in more innovative ways, making better use of technological advances.

What do you expect from your lawyers?

From my lawyers I expect:

  • responsiveness
  • pragmatism
  • an understanding of the issues and challenges facing us and our industry
  • a creative and practical approach to resolving disputes, including less formal, more discussion-based, methods where appropriate
  • a good feel for the type and scale of advice that is required at any given time

 

So do you have any thoughts? What are the biggest challenges in this area? Do let us know below. Your thoughts are always welcome...

Interviewed by Rachel Moloney. The views expressed by our Legal Analysis interviewees are not necessarily those of the proprietor. This interview first appeared in Lexis®PSL Commercial and was conducted on 8 April 2014.

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