'Digital Britain', published June 16th, is not modest in its stated ambition: "Digital Britain is the government's vision of an of an economy and society where core working activities are based around knowledge, skills and information. It represents a strategic plan to accelerate growth in the digital industries and cement the UK's position as a world leader for innovation, investment and quality."
So it's a bit odd that things seem to have gone a bit quiet after the initial flurry of reactions to its proposals for 'next generation' broadband networks, legislation to deal with illicit P2P file sharing and 'top slicing' the BBC licence fee primarilty to fund broadcast regional news.
I think the reason is that Digital Britain is big in scope and ambition. Whether it all adds up to blueprint for keeping - putting? - the UK into the global no. 1 spot is a moot point. But there's a lot to it.
I see 'Digital Britain' as a website, a mix of of its own 'original' content (e.g. on the issues I've justs mentioned) plus lots of snippets and hyperlinks pointing to other developments which are already in process. But does it all add up to systemic change? Potentially "yes", but there's obviously a big question mark about how far circumstances will allow 'Digital Britain' to deliver its vision.
Also, it's probably fair to say that the most significant areas of change focus on the network and the funding of public sector content and services rather than in the area of copyright and commercial content.
With those caveats here are some reasons why, in overall terms, Digital Britain gets a 'yes' vote in the scale of its ambition and scope.
The importance of public sector content
Public sector is no longer just about broadcast media. The Report states that Government commissiong may represent as much as 30% of total investment in professional UK online content (source: research by Analysys). Think central and local Government information. Also think the arts, cultural and scientific institutions. So plans about how those institutions licence their content are hugely significant to the digital content sector. Check out Chapter 8 ("the Journey to Digital Government'.
The same chapter is also worth reading to see how dramatic the shift is to the Web as the main platform for accessing public services - the 'Digital Switchover of Public Services'.
Legislative plans on illegal P2P filesharing
OK, not exactly new - you can see the background here - we can now the Government's plans taking shape. OFCOM will be charged with a duty to take steps to reduce copyright infringement. It will discharge this duty by requiring ISPs to accept 2 conditions: (1) to notify account holders where their account appears to have been used for infringement and (2) an obligation to maintain and make available - based on a Court order - data about enable 'serious infringers' to be identified to enable court action. These 2 obligations will be based on a detailed code of practice to be drafted, possibly by a yet to be created industry body - a 'rights agency' or 'rights authority'.
If these measures do not achieve a 70% target for reduction of unlawful file sharing, of OFCOM will be able to impose additional conditions on ISPs requiring them to apply technical measures such as Blocking (Site, IP, URL), Protocol blocking, Port blocking and Bandwidth capping. The Government has published a Consultation on these proposals which can be found here.
Online = Offline penalties
Again, not in the category of 'originality' - but nonetheless important - Digital Britain announces the Government's intention to introduce exceptional statutory maxima of £50,000 for all IP offences. This was Recommendation 36 of the Gowers Review.
UK copyright law - some significant tweaks
Digital Britain gives pointers to some of the proposals that resulted from the Gowers Review are likely to see the legislative light of day. It talks about updating existing copyright exceptions to allow certain public institutions to make preservation copies of films and sound recordings and also to enable educational institutions to communicate copies of material to 'distance learning' students.
Digital Britain also refers to plans to introduce legislation to enable commercial schemes to operate under collecting societies could licence 'orphan works' - copyright works whose authors can't be found. This isn't a minor issue. The British Library estimate that 40% of their archive count as orphan works.
These are covered in Chapter 4 which also mentions another potential change which would greatly increase the range of works which can be licensed by collecting societies. Following the example in the Nordic countries, collecting societies may be able to offer licences over works which have not been mandated to them by the relevant rights holders.
UK copyright law - other changes?
Digital Britain's focus is, of course, the UK only. So any of the other 'big issues' that are currently floating around, such as broad provisions for 'fair use', fall into the remit of the EU and the World Intelectual Property Organisation. So on these issues, Digital Britain doesn't so much duck the question as defer to the work being led by the IPO following publication of 'Strategic Priorities for Copyright' which has an international and strategic focus. 'SABIP', the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property Policy', is currently working on a number of issues - check out my post here. As a member of SABIP's Copyright Expert Panel, I'm involved in this.
What about support for innovation in the creative industries?
To be frank, it's a bit of a hotch potch here. But there's certainly some prospective good news for the computer games industry on potential tax breaks; some discussion about rights-based funding mechanisms such as levies and cable re-transmission fees and a few thoughts about film, cinema and literature. These can be found in Chapter 4.
So when you add it all up, it's a landscape of significant and ongoing change. But for the world of commercial content, the future ultimately lies not in Digital Britain but in new business models.
Watch out for my next post on the 'Why Pay for Content?', the topic of a recent debate hosted by the Publishers Association on June 24th. Although it focused on academic and professional publishing, the question is at no.1 on the agendas of most sectors of the content industries.
Have a good week.