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Making copyright credible: Hooper and Hargreaves on rights, reform and a digital exchange

By | Published on Tuesday 12 June 2012


The Digital Copyright Exchange was “the single most important thing” in last year’s Hargreaves Report on intellectual property laws, or so says Ian Hargreaves, who should probably know. And at a First Monday event in London last night he told his music industry audience that he was “very happy that work was already being done to make it a reality. I’ll be less happy if it doesn’t succeed! But while the government continues to support Richard, there is great potential”.

The Richard he references being, of course, Richard Hooper, the former Deputy Chairman of OfCom who is currently working out what exactly a Digital Copyright Exchange should be, and who was also at the FM event last night. As expected, it seems likely that what will actually be primarily exchanged via any entity born out of Hooper’s work is data not rights, and mainly information about copyright ownership, though there seems to be a hope that the existence of a DCE might encourage rights owners to offer simpler and cheaper licensing solutions to grass roots licensees, most of whom probably currently use copyright material without permission.

“It’s our belief that our copyright licensing system, as a whole, is currently not fit for purpose”, Hooper told the FM event. “The music industry is actually better than many other creative sectors, but there is still room for improvement, and I think most people in the music industry would agree. There are various issues, but a key one is identification. It is critical that we make it easier for licensees to identify who owns what rights, and how they might go about licensing them. Now, many digital copyright exchanges alread exist around the world and across the various creative industries, and especially in the music industry. But not everyone uses them, not everyone uses them correctly, and not everyone knows they exist. We want to create something that pulls all that information together, to streamline the licensing process for licensees, and to ensure creators get paid”.

So, a database of databases then, with any information that currently slips between existing data systems captured directly. Which is a good idea, though whether it could really work technically and practically is presumably something Hooper and his team are currently considering, them being in the second phase of their work fleshing out Hargreaves’ grand DCE plan. Though Hooper seemed optimistic.

Of course even if the government could successfully undertake such an ambitious IT project (and the government doesn’t have a particularly record when it comes to ambitious IT projects), would rights owners use it, and use it correctly? Hooper seemed keen to stress that participation in the Exchange would be voluntary, though you do wonder whether a compulsory copyright registration system might not be a more efficient way of achieving the DCE’s aims, even if that meant the government’s initiative did start to duplicate work already being done by existing industry run data exchange organisations. But neither Hargreaves nor Hooper have ever used the ‘registration’ word. So far.

“This process is about industry thinking”, Hooper insisted, “these are not the government’s issues that we are trying to address, they are your issues. And we have enjoyed a great response from the creative industries, especially the music industry. There is an appetite to make this work”.

While Hooper certainly seems to be playing the role of the facilitator rather than regulator at the moment – there were no sticks on show during last night’s amicable debate – the DCE developer did have one thought that verged on a threat. “If you want politicians to do more to combat piracy”, he said, “first you’ve got to take practical steps to eliminate the excuses used by those who routinely infringe”.

It was a sentiment expressed by both Hargreaves and Hooper, especially when their music industry audience began to hone in on the UK government’s slow progress in cracking down on online piracy, with the 2010 Digital Economy Act yet to come into force, and Hargreaves’ review not really touching on piracy issues at all. “But the proposals we made are all part of the fight against piracy”, Hargreaves insisted, referring to both the DCE and his other proposed reforms that are currently the subject of a government consultation. “For copyright to work, it needs to be brought in line with reasonable expectations”.

He continued: “We need mainstream public opinion on our side, and that means streamlining the licensing process, and removing those elements of copyright that most people consider a nonsense. Not being able to copy CDs for personal use is a nonsense. Not being able to make parody songs and post them on YouTube is, in my opinion, a nonsense. And the issue of orphan works, a nonsense. For copyright to work, for anti-piracy initiatives to work, the basic system needs to be credible. And these are the changes we are trying to make, to make your copyright system stronger”.