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Existing copyright licensing processes not accounting properly for 'mixed media' and digital content, report says

Out-Law News | 28 Mar 2012 | 2:57 pm | 4 min. read

Copyright licensing processes in the UK could be more "streamlined, easier and cheaper to use" than is currently the case, a report into the framework has said.

The report said that the "overarching" problem currently affecting copyright licensing in the UK is in how legitimate content is made available digitally. If media companies improved the processes for online licensing there would be less justification for piracy and a "stronger political will" to tackle the issue, it said.

"Media companies wish to see tougher enforcement against copyright infringement," the report (73-page / 937KB PDF) said. "To achieve this, the media companies must be – and, as important, must be seen to be – doing everything possible to enable and encourage new digital services."

The report was published to mark the end of the first phase of a feasibility study into a potential digital copyright exchange operating in the UK. The study is being led by former Ofcom chairman Richard Hooper who previously wrote to creative industry representatives asking for their views on whether the current licensing system is fit for the digital age.

"Making copyright licensing easier to use, less expensive, more accessible for licensees both large and small, for companies and for individuals, will encourage new digital services," it said. "A wide and diverse range of new digital services for the fixed and mobile internet that are easy to use, that offer a repertoire not too different from the physical world, that are customer-oriented and sensibly priced, reduce, for example in the eyes of the politicians, the justification for any copyright infringement by consumers."

"As a result, there will be stronger political will to enforce copyright ever more vigorously across peer to peer file-sharing, websites, search engines, payment systems and advertisers," it said.

Hooper's report said there were also "significant problems" in the current processes for licensing works in some particular sectors, including the music and publishing industries.

Licensing processes and licensing organisations are too complex and there is too much of a disparity between what can be licensed digitally and what can be licensed in the "physical" world, the report said. The is also a problem with the amount of work, expense and complexity involved in licensing high volumes of copyrighted content digitally for low value, it said.

It is also too difficult to determine "who owns what rights to what content in what country" and in ensuring content creators are paid their "fair share of revenues" when their work is used and reused, the report said. Information about copyright is also communicated differently in depending on which creative sector the work belongs to and across different countries which also causes problems, it said.

The report said that whilst licensing may work well within individual industries, the increasing "blurring" of content boundaries means the overall framework is not as efficient or modern as it could be.

"Specific organisations or sectors scrutinised on their own, seen in close-up, are often sensibly efficient and modern in outlook," the report said. "But when one pulls back to the wide shot and looks at the totality of sectors within the creative industries or the agglomeration of organisations often within a sector doing similar things (for example collecting societies), the picture is not so efficient and not so modern, due to the differences in standards and licensing practice that have evolved in the different media sectors."

"The barriers to integrated cross-border and mixed-media rights management are only partly technological. A combination of differences in law, in custom and practice, and in commercial interests is equally influential," it said.

"Copyright licensing is siloed and is insufficiently international in focus and scope and is therefore difficult to use and difficult to access - in one very particular sense. There are no agreed and operational standards across the creative industries in the UK and internationally for expressing, identifying and communicating rights information. These standards can and do exist within a specific sector but often end there."

"Thus the publishing Industry can establish via a book’s ISBN number some key publishing rights information but this does not connect easily or at all to rights information in the audiovisual sector next door regarding who owns the film rights to that book. Nor does it connect easily to the music rights (eg synchronisation rights) linked to that film. In addition, rights information about that book or film in the UK does not connect easily or at all to rights information about the book or film across national borders - yet the internet, the home of so many new digital services, is effectively a borderless medium," the report said.

However, Hooper said that solutions to the problems can be identified in 'phase two' of his study. He is expected to present his findings to Parliament before the summer recess.

"If, in the second phase of the work, we can find industry-led solutions to these problems, and I am confident that we can, then innovation and economic growth across the UK’s creative and technology sectors will be further accelerated," Hooper said in a statement. "And the British consumer will be able to enjoy an even wider range of sensibly priced and easy to use digital services (films, tv, music etc) over the mobile and fixed internet. As a result, any justification for copyright infringement/piracy by consumers will be yet further weakened."

The report said that there may not be a "single solution" to the problems identified. A network of multiple digital copyright exchanges is a potential solution already suggested by the Open Digital Policy Organisation.

However, "ideally" solutions will be industry-led and funded, operate across different sectors and be "international in focus," the report said. They should be "clear, open and freely accessible" as well as voluntary to use with incentives for rights holders to participate. Any new system should also reduce piracy as well as the incentives to infringe, increase competition and recognise and protect the rights of creators and their investment in content, it said.

The solutions should result in the creative market growing and result in economic growth and innovation. Consumers should also derive "wider social benefits" from the new framework which in itself should be "trusted, authoritative, confidence-giving and flexible," the report said. 

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