Précis - Richard Hooper has published his recommendations on proposed solutions to problems with copyright licensing in the digital age.

What? Richard Hooper has published the second - and final - report of his investigation into the idea of a digital copyright exchange ("DCE"), as first proposed in the Hargreaves Report. His first report, published in March 2012, identified the problems that various sectors experience with copyright licensing in the digital age. The second report discusses solutions to these problems. His central recommendation is the establishment of a Copyright Hub, which is intended to address a number of deficiencies in the current system, such as the lack of accurate data, the problem of orphan works, and the administrative burden of high-volume low-value copyright licensing.

So What? In last year's Hargreaves Report, which discussed if the UK intellectual property system was helping or hindering economic growth, Professor Hargreaves looked at the ways in which copyright holders can respond to the challenges that new technology has created for them. He concluded that, along with new mechanisms of enforcement, a key element was the creation of an accessible licensing environment, which would streamline the process of licensing copyright. Hargreaves suggested that this could be done through a DCE, which would provide a centralised portal for fast and reliable copyright licensing.

Following the publication of the Hargreaves Report, Richard Hooper was asked to look at the current problems that various sectors experience with copyright licensing, and the feasibility of establishing a UK-based DCE to address these. His initial report, published in March, concluded that there were significant problems in copyright licensing that particularly affected libraries, museums, educational institutions and the audiovisual industry.

The particular problems that he identified included the inaccessibility and inaccuracy of data about who owns a copyright work; the need to simplify and streamline copyright licensing; the issue of orphan works (i.e. works for which no author can be traced) and mass digitisation, which particularly affects archives, museums and libraries; and the perceived repertoire imbalance that has resulted from a lack of works being available "legitimately" in a digital format.

Hooper's latest report recommends the following solutions to these problems:

  • that the accuracy of data about the ownership of a copyright work is improved by the use of international standard identifiers, which attach to a work and identify its creators and the accompanying rights. In addition, all web publishing organisations should sign up to a code of conduct and commit to not stripping the metadata (which contains information about the creator of a work) from a work, and not using any work that has been so stripped;
  • that the complexity and expense of copyright licensing is reduced via the establishment of a not-for-profit, industry-led Copyright Hub. In addition, the process can be simplified in the educational sector by the use of intermediaries to sell licences, so that a school or college would only need to approach one organisation that could provide all the licences they would need, rather than approaching a number of organisations separately. In the music industry, organisations should continue to find ways to make licensing easier, more automated and more accessible, which will be done by new types of blanket licensing, by direct licensing and by combinations of the two;
  • that technological solutions to the problem of orphan works and mass digitisation are developed. These will complement the legal changes that are currently being presented to Parliament by the IPO, which will allow for greater flexibility in the use of orphan works; and
  • that the various industries and, in particular, the audiovisual industry continue to reduce the imbalance of physical media against digital media by increasing the works that are available digitally in order to change the perceptions of copyright users.

Hargreaves was clear in his original proposal for a DCE that the Government should not be responsible for creating the mechanics of an actual digital copyright exchange - that would lead to "a nightmare of IT procurement followed by the birth of a white elephant". It is important to note that the Copyright Hub that Hooper has outlined is not a hyper-DCE infrastructure where copyright transactions will take place. Rather, it will be a "hub" that connects the "spokes" of numerous independent DCEs together, so providing a one-stop shop for copyright licensing through those DCEs. Hooper recommends that it is based on voluntary, opt-in, non-exclusive and pro-competitive principles.

Hooper's Copyright Hub will have a number of functions:

  • it will help people to navigate the complexities of copyright, and provide education about copyright;
  • Copyright owners will be able to register works, the associated rights to those works, permitted uses and licences granted;
  • it will be a place for potential licensees to go for simple, transparent and inexpensive copyright licensing via, for example, DCEs, acting in effect as a marketplace for rights; and
  • it will also be one of the authoritative places where prospective users of orphan works can go to demonstrate they have done proper and reasonable searches for the owners of those works before they digitise them.

In order to maintain momentum for the development of the Copyright Hub (the lack of which was identified by Hargreaves as a reason for why such a hub has not yet been established in any country), Hooper recommends that a Copyright Hub Launch Group is established to oversee its design and implementation. He also recommends that a Copyright Licensing Steering Group is formed, which will keep momentum up across all the outstanding issues raised in the report. The creative industries have agreed in principle to fund this for the first year.

The idea of the Copyright Hub has been broadly welcomed. Business secretary Vince Cable commented that

the idea of a 'copyright hub' is an ambitious undertaking and one that could clearly yield great benefits for the UK's creative industries and consumers. It is potentially a ground-breaking step forward.

However, it appears that whether the Copyright Hub can effectively speed up the process of copyright licensing, even for low value bulk transactions, is largely in the hands of the copyright owners. The voluntary principle means that there could be large gaps in the data about ownership that the Hub holds, and an automated system could require a lack of control over the copyrighted material that copyright holders may be reluctant to embrace.