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Views sought on UK's copyright licensing system

Creative industry representatives have been asked to give their views on whether the UK's current copyright licensing system is fit for the digital age.

Richard Hooper, the former Ofcom chairman, has written to the representatives as part of a study into whether a new digital copyright exchange (DCE) is a feasible solution to problems identified with the current system of licensing copyrighted works.

Hooper has asked whether the UK copyright industry stakeholders accept the research of university professor Ian Hargreaves who last year proposed establishing a DCE to address the "urgent need for an efficient way to license collections of works in as straightforward a manner as possible" at low cost. Hargreaves described the UK's copyright laws as not fit for the digital age.

"The independent study is being carried out in two parts. Phase one is looking at all of the issues highlighted in the Hargreaves Review surrounding copyright licensing in and for the digital age in further detail. This includes setting out clear definitions of the roles played by creators, businesses, rights management organisations and consumers," a statement by the Intellectual Property Office said.

"This is a controversial issue with strongly held opinions across the spectrum - we are seeking hard data and evidence for or against the main, or parts of the, [Hargreaves] hypothesis. The responses I receive will help to inform my thinking as I move to develop a concept for workable licensing solutions to problems identified," Hooper said in the statement.

In November Hooper was appointed to lead the independent feasibility study into a DCE after the Government had backed Hargreaves' recommendations to establish one. Hargreaves had previously formed the proposals as part of a review of the UK's intellectual framework published in May. He had said that a copyright exchange should be set up to enable owners of copyrighted material to license the use of their material to users through an online mechanism.

Hargreaves said a DCE could benefit the UK economy by up to £2 billion and said the system, which would comprise "a network of interoperable databases to provide a common platform for licensing transactions," would make it easier for users of copyright material to obtain the right licenses and encourage legal use of copyrighted content.

Hargreaves also said that a DCE would improve the prospects for the UK's creative industries across the world and make it easier for small companies and new entrants to the copyright market to establish themselves. He said the DCE should be voluntary for rights holders to sign up to, but that Government should consider offering incentives to do so.

In August the Government announced its support for the proposed new licensing system, vowed to make state-owned copyrighted works available through the new exchange and said it would encourage public bodies to do likewise.

Views on aspects of Hargreaves' findings must be sent to Hooper by 10 February. Hooper is to "examine and recommend solutions to the issues raised" with the current copyright licensing system in the UK as part of 'phase two' of his study and is due to present his findings to Parliament before the summer recess.

"The digital copyright exchange is considered to be a strong potential solution by some stakeholders," the IPO statement said.

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