As part of its Digital Britain initiative, the UK government recently issued its Interim Report, which outlines a strategic plan to position the UK as a leader in the global digital economy and to spur growth in the digital and communications industries. The Interim Report contains a number of recommendations, including the creation of a digital rights agency to prevent and reduce online copyright infringement.

Launched in 2008, the Digital Britain Review had five key objectives:

  1. fostering an attractive investment climate for the digital economy;
  2. creating high-quality content for UK citizens;
  3. providing fairness and access for all;
  4. developing the infrastructure, skills and take-up to enable the online delivery of public services, and
  5. upgrading and modernizing the UK’s wired and wireless and broadcasting digital networks.

Early this year, the UK Government issued an Interim Report with more than 22 recommendations, including specific proposals on:

  • next-generation access networks intended to maximize market-led coverage of next-generation broadband and removal of barriers to infrastructure;
  • universal access to broadband;
  • modernization of wireless radio spectrum holdings;
  • digital radio;
  • a new deal for digital content rights; and
  • enhanced public services delivery.

Of particular interest is the UK government’s intention to explore the potential for a Rights Agency. The agency would seek to bring industry together to agree on ways to encourage legitimate use of copyright material, work together to prevent unlawful downloading, and enable technical solutions to combat piracy.

To stimulate feedback on the government’s digital agency recommendation, The British Intellectual Property Office (IPO) subsequently issued a discussion paper entitled "Copyright in a Digital World — What Role for a Digital Rights Agency?" In it, a number of issues are addressed and suggestions made as to the potential benefits of the agency and its impact on combating unlawful online file-sharing and piracy. These include:

  1. educating the public about the consequences of unlawfully using copyright material and about ways to modify their behaviour;
  2. supporting industry efforts in developing commercial offerings for consumers to access content;
  3. supporting legislation to address illegal consumer activity; and
  4. creating workable copyright-support solutions.

The UK government envisions that the proposed agency would not be a government-run regulator, but rather an entity set up and managed by industry.

The UK government also announced in the Interim Report its intention to consult further on possible ISP obligations to collect anonymized information on serious repeat peer-to-peer file-sharing infringers and to make that information available to rights holders. In an appendix to the discussion paper, the IPO proposes to require ISPs to provide detailed notifications to account holders of infringement activity, maintain information on notifications sent for use in subsequent proceedings against the infringer, and comply with a code of practice designed to prevent and reduce online copyright infringement.

The Interim Report and the Rights Agency discussion paper highlight the UK government’s commitment to building a knowledge economy and supporting the skills and innovation that underpin the UK’s digital and communications industries.