I was kindly invited to attend a ‘narrow table’ discussion session about the key challenges facing innovation and startups when dealing with a copyright system that is clearly not fit-for-purpose in an increasingly digital world.
This session focused on teasing out the real needs (and supporting evidence thereof) for a Digital Copyright Exchange, as recommended in the Hargreaves report, which would help to address key challenges facing UK innovation and entrepreneurship in the world of digital. This is part of the diagnostic phase of an independent feasibility study led by Richard Hooper.
Attendees included entrepreneurs and start-ups (in music and other digital media) as well as participants from the publishing, legal, academic, public sector, and consulting industries. Highlights from the discussions include:
- Academic publishing – e.g. universities get double-charged for publishing academic works; i.e. for researching the content, which is provided free to the publisher, and again for the published work
- Costly clearance – e.g. according to one attendee, the British Library’s Sound Archives proportionally spent the largest amount of time negotiating / clearing rights for the materials, than on creating archive itself.
- Orphan works – DCE could provide a useful mechanism for managing orphan works.
- Small / Medium Scale Enterprises – SMEs and startups experience the most difficulty with licensing, especially as they lack the resources and money to go through the hoops in negotiating with rights owners. E.g. the lack of a clear and comprehensive licensing system hampers start-ups in establishing their business models (this is particularly acute with music streaming services)
- Price versus value – Collecting societies may not have the right pricing models for music content. E.g. On-demand streams are considered more expensive than scheduled streams or download.
- Physical versus digital copyright – The old world approach of counting instances of works for remuneration does not translate well for digital copyright and new usage scenarios
- Rights owners are scared – they don’t wish to make the wrong decision and risk cannibalising their existing business
- Software Licensing – The DCE should also extend to include software and software licensing
- Navigation – This is a cross industry issue with copyright. A single platform approach to cover all licensing needs would be great as this would provide a single point of reference for information and guidance for users
- Government copyright – It was suggested that government owned IP (e.g. ordnance survey data, census, land or electoral register data) should be covered by the DCE
- Social Media Data – Increasing use of social media data streams for powering new applications makes it a crucial element for future services which will need addressing, sooner or later, perhaps in the DCE.
The above are only a few of the sentiments expressed on the day, and attendees were encouraged to send in their responses to the call for evidence as soon as possible.
Overall, this was a very informative session which seems to confirm something I’ve often stated, which is that the key role of any new digital copyright mechanism should be to simplify and facilitate the use of copyright material within and outside the digital environment. If the Digital Copyright Exchange had those as key principles, it would go a long way to ensuring successful outcomes and delivery of the promised benefit of over £2 Billion to the UK economy.
Perhaps it’s the fine August weather, but the announcement of support by the UK Government for all ten fairly sensible recommendations on Intellectually Property reform (by the last independent Review of Intellectual Property), gives rise to some optimism about the future of copyright and other forms of IP, in the UK at least.
The press release, which can be found on the UK’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) website, states that Ministers have accepted the recommendations “which estimate a potential benefit to the UK economy of up to £7.9 billion.” Who can argue with those numbers at a time of sorely needed economic growth, I wonder?
Anyway, it goes on to highlight some of the key recommendations including:
- A Digital Copyright Exchange – i.e. a market place where licences to copyright content can be bought or sold. The question to answer is how such an exchange will look and work.
- Limited Private Copying – also known as format shifting; whereby it will no longer be illegal to copy legally purchased content from one format to another (e.g. from CD to PC). This one is just a reality update, in my opinion.
- Copyright Exception for Parody – basically introduces a new exception to Copyright that will make it legal to parody someone else’s work without seeking prior permission.
- Copyright Exception for Text and Data Mining – another exception to legalise the use of existing search and analysis techniques for research (e.g. medicinal or pharmaceutical research)
- Clearance for the use of Orphan Works – Resolves a particularly vexing issue that prevents the legal use of Orphan Works (i.e. where no owner can be identified).
- Evidence Based Future Policy on IP – This makes the case for future IP policies to be backed by solid evidence. This is an interesting one which may well be decided by execution in spite of its noble sentiment.
Also, according to the press release, “a new intellectual property crime strategy and international strategy for intellectual property have been published”, to direct the enforcement of IP crimes and issues at home and abroad.
As you can imagine, there’s been lots of reaction to this and other interesting developments, (e.g. the decision, by OFCOM, to drop the Digital Economy Act provision for website-blocking which would compel ISPs to block sites that host copyright infringing content). But there’s always a certain amount of fear mongering and doom saying associated with any such announcement and, in my opinion, they don’t amount to much until the words are turned into action by their execution – which will effectively make or break original intentions. In any case, I sincerely hope this development will help to bring a new era for Copyright leadership, in the same country where it all started, with the Statute of Anne!