Job well done
The Hooper Study, co-authored with Dr. Ros Lynch, entitled "Copyright works - streamlining copyright licensing for the digital age" was published yesterday. I welcome it because it identifies the key issues that need to be tackled to harness the power of technology and the Web to make finding copyright works and clearing rights on a cross-sectoral and international basis as easy as search is today. Of course, the devil is in the implementation but we must laud the vision.
The challenge is to get that vision realised (see 'Next Steps' at the end of this post). In these straightened times, it's tough to get infrastructure-related projects funded - we'd all prefer to pay for a new car and not the roads on which they run. But there is great potential economic benefit for UK plc,and for everyone from creators, publishers, distributors, service providers and intermediaries in the creative and cultural industries, if we can put that infrastructure in place or, rather, join up all the various moving technological parts, into a seamless ,easy to use rights and e-commerce network.
I can't do better than quote the Report's main recommendation: "....the creation of a not-for-profit, industry-led Copyright Hub based in the UK that links interoperably and scalably 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, based on voluntary, opt-in, non-exclusive and pro-competitive principles. The Copyright Hub will serve in the UK and beyond a wide range of copyright licensors (rights holders, creators and rights owners in both commercial and cultural worlds) on the supply side and a wide range of copyright licensees/users on the demand side." Note the reference of cross-sectoral and cross-border. These are two indispensable features.
Copyright 'hub and spoke' model
Moving on from Hooper's Phase I Report published in March, the latest report adopts a 'hub and spoke' model for digital licensing. At the centre is a proposed 'Copyright Hub', with the Digital Copyright Exchanges (DCE) and other databases as its spokes. It dispels any notion of a single, super DCE 'mega copyright superstore' which would be an IT disaster and couldn't be funded anyway. Rather, the new Report reflects how Internet' based distributed networks and databases function across the globe. The challenge identified in the Report is to ensure that all these databases can communicate with each other which, in turn, requires common standards.
The Report describes the Copyright Hub as a having 5 functions, part portal, part resource centre-
- Act as a signposting and navigation mechanism to the complex world of copyright
- Be the place to go for copyright education
- Be the place where any copyright owner can choose to register works, the associated rights to those works, permitted uses and licences granted
- Be the place for potential licensees to go for easy to use, transparent, low transaction cost copyright licensing via for example digital copyright exchanges (DCEs), acting in effect as a marketplace for rights
- Be one of the authoritative places where prospective users of orphan works.
Importance of copyright licensing for SME's
Interestingly, the Report highlights the SME sector as the Copyright Hub’s particular focus. It... "will not be on the low volume of customised, high monetary value licensing transactions at the top of the market (for example Universal Music Group’s licensing of Spotify) but on the very high volume of automatable, low monetary value transactions coming mostly from the long tail of smaller users - the small digital start-up company wanting to use music and images and text creatively for its customers, the teacher in the classroom, a user posting a video on YouTube. Larger companies have told us that they also have requirements for access to easy to use high volume, low monetary value, low transaction cost copyright licensing systems, for example a broadcaster wanting a particular film clip or a publisher wanting a specific diagram or image." That's good news.
The Report's definition of DCE makes clear that it's envisaged that it will be the DCE's, not the Copyright Hub, where copyright licensing transactions take place. The DCE is an "online web-based computer system that allows licensors to offer their rights and allows licensees/rights users to license them. The DCE has six functions which allow rights users to: 1. Look for different types of content across the range of media types 2. Define and agree what uses they wish to make of the chosen content with the licensors 3. Be quoted a price by the licensor for those uses of the specified content that the system is programmed to offer 4. Pay for the rights online within the normal e-commerce framework 5. Have the content delivered to them in the appropriate format 6. Account back to the licensor as to what content was actually used so that the right creators can be paid their shares."
Metadata and databases are the engines of automated copyright licensing
The new Report also does an excellent job in highlighting the importance of metadata as a key building block in this 'hub and spoke' model of digital copyright licensing. These include unique identifiers for each work, its creator(s) and the rights associated with tha work. It goes on to talk about "...having and keeping up-to-date records of who owns what rights to what in which country, and being able to exchange rights information across different systems and countries."
Again at the 'spokes' level, the Report supports two main database projects "...which will also act as exemplars of what good looks like: the Global Repertoire Database in music publishing where Performing Rights Society (PRS for Music) has been a prime motivator and the Global Recording Database with a similar role played by Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL). The aspiration is for collecting societies around the world to be able to draw on one authoritative database which is kept updated (a key requirement for rights databases), replacing multiple databases where the data conflicts and is not kept up to date. 15 Having achieved better data including better use of identifiers of that data, rights systems need to be able to talk to each other across sectors and across national borders because of the inherently mixed-media and borderless nature of the internet. All those who have taken part in and supported the review agree that licensing, historically, has been rather siloed within individual sectors."
Importance of the Linked Content Coalition's work
I also applaud the Report's support for the Linked Content Coalition. Again, citing the Report: "The LCC is an international project that emanated from the European Publishers Council, but is now moving into new sectors beyond publishing. The LCC is all about developing a common language and a set of communications standards so proper interoperability is achieved, a very real and necessary building block for the Copyright Hub and its associated databases and DCEs." Spot on. And it's worth quoting more from the Report which cites the LCC's stated goals:
"Every digital media content transaction is a rights transaction: that is, a transaction in IP rights in order to access and to use content, rather than simply delivering and consuming the content itself. IP rights are the core units of commerce in digital media. All delivery channels today increasingly involve machine to machine communication. The Linked Content Coalition will develop ways to facilitate copyright management by doing what the Internet - and machines in general - are really good at: managing huge quantities of data and hiding complexity from users. The Linked Content Coalition is putting in place easy ways, based on open, non-proprietary standards, to communicate information about these rights, describing who can do what and when with any content throughout our supply chains and with end users."
The Report recommends that an overall steering group is formed, called the Copyright Licensing Steering Group (CLSG) with a wide mandate to ensure continuing cross-sector and where possible cross-border coordination. It says that the creative industries have agreed in principle to fund and provide an office to continue this work for one year in the first instance, subject to more detailed discussions with Government.
The Report also recommends that this office is independent of, and be based outside of Government thus ensuring that the principles of ‘industry-led and ‘industry-funded’ which have marked this review from its outset, continue to be upheld. The office would be responsible for providing a report to Government on progress made across all workstreams at the end of the first year.
I hope that Government gives tangible financial and other support to the CLSG and that everyone involved in the cultural and creative industries gets behind these ideas.
Meanwhile, good luck Team GB and let's hope the gold medals start to shine.