New UK 'Copyright Hub' would help address problems with copyright licensing framework, report says

Out-Law News | 31 Jul 2012 | 2:32 pm | 4 min. read

The UK should have a new 'Copyright Hub' to allow for rights holders to licence the use of their content through a simpler, more transparent and less costly system than currently exists, a report commissioned by the Government has said.

The Hub would enable the registering of rights by rights holders and would become a marketplace for licensing of material. It would also help solve problems around so-called 'orphan works' and would be used for providing information and education about copyright, said the report, Copyright works: Streamlining copyright licensing for the digital age (76-page / 4.51MB PDF).

The new framework would be led and funded by the creative industries, which would be incentivised to contribute to the cost of the system because of a larger share of revenues they could benefit from, the report said.

Proper "collaboration" across the sector should ensure that "data" on copyright works is "compatible and interoperable with common standards and a common language across both sectoral and national boundaries," it added. This would enable a "federation" of databases that either currently exist or are being developed to be "linked" with the Hub.

"The Copyright Hub will be based in the UK and will link via spokes interoperably, scalably and intelligently to the growing national and international network of private and public sector digital copyright exchanges, rights registries and other copyright-related databases, using agreed cross-sectoral and cross-border data building blocks and standards, on a 'voluntary, opt-in and non-exclusive basis'," the report said.

The creation of the Hub would benefit small and medium-sized companies that sometimes "struggle to interact with the UK's sometimes complex intellectual property environment and to manage their intellectual property assets in ways which will build company growth", whilst the reform of "poor, opaque and inaccessible licensing procedures" would reduce the ability of copyright infringers to justify their piracy, the report said.

The recommendation for the creation of a new Copyright Hub was made by former Ofcom chairman Richard Hooper who was last year tasked by Government with conducting a study into whether a new digital copyright exchange (DCE) was feasible.

Hooper said that the new Hub would "link" with other DCEs developed by commercial organisations and collecting societies, such as the one established by PRS for Music, and that the Hub would offer content creators the opportunity to "register and offer their rights directly" if they wanted.

The Hub would have a "strong emphasis" on providing for "automated licensing via DCEs" which would reduce the cost of making licensing transactions and make the process more "transparent", Hooper said. However, he added that "customised 'manual' licensing" deals, such as those made via email or over the phone, could also be offered through the Hub.

Hooper said that the purpose of the new Hub will be to enable "smaller users", such as small businesses, teachers or internet users, to license the use of material at "very high volume" where the transactions are "automatable" and of "low monetary value". He said larger rights holders, though, would also see benefits from the Hub though because it could increase the "overall size of the pie" that they can profit from. This could help drive industry funding for the project, he added.

"A key incentive driving industry funding and industry leadership for much of the work in this report is that revenues, especially revenues from the internet, increase as a result of better licensing procedures," Hooper said.

Hooper said that it was important for "strong identifiers" to be contained in "databases of rights information" and that that information should be able to be exchanged "across different systems in ways that are easily understood". He said that, currently, "there is no standard way of expressing the ownership and terms of use of media content in the digital environment to end users or in machine-readable ways."

Hooper recommended that where 'identifiers' are already used by the creative industry to mark out content creators and rights issues, those identifiers should be "used accurately and consistently". Sections of the industry that do not currently use identifiers should "agree an approach" that enables better data about copyright works to be logged, he added.

In addition, Hooper recommended that web publishing bodies "that regularly use and resize pictures" to establish a new voluntary code of practice in relation to metadata. Those publishers should "publicly commit to end the practice of stripping metadata from images and refuse to use images for which there is no metadata attached" under the code, he said. Metadata contains identifying tags of information associated with content, including who the owner of content is.

"Identifying works, creators and rights allows much better databases to be created," Hooper's report said. "In the UK and internationally it is generally agreed that the databases of who owns what rights for what in which country are not fit for purpose for the demands of the digital age even if they were adequate for the less complex demands of the analogue age."

Hooper said that the new Hub would benefit both rights holders and licensees and users of content.

"Creating a single marketplace for copyright licensing would not only reduce the costs of licensing and simplify a complex system that can be difficult to navigate but would also bring together key players to have a more effective exchange and use of rights," he said in a statement. "This will only help boost economic growth, ensuring that both the industry and consumers are making the most of the UK’s creativity."

Business Secretary Vince Cable said establishing a new Copyright Hub would be "an ambitious undertaking" but one which could "clearly yield great benefits for the UK's creative industries and consumers."

"It is potentially a ground-breaking step forward that will help make copyright licensing fit for 21st century," he added. Cable said the Government would "support" the work recommended by Hooper.

Hooper recommended that a new "steering group" be formed that would have a "mandate" to "ensure continuing cross-sector and where possible cross-border coordination" towards the creation of the Hub, among other things.

In a previous report into the problems with the existing copyright licensing regime in the UK, Hooper said that an "overarching" issue affecting the whole of the creative industry was the lack of easy to use, inexpensive and accessible systems for licensing legitimate content.