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Digital Copyright Exchange: Time to Engage

This week the first stage of the feasibility study into the creation of a Digital Copyright Exchange closed for submissions.  Policy consultation veteran Richard Hooper has wisely split his project in two, beginning with a “diagnostic” stage in which he is posing the question of what is wrong with the current system, before moving on (if necessary) to the second stage of identifying possible “solutions”.

The Hooper secretariat is also to be commended for two further innovations in their inquiry process which were, sadly, lacking from other copyright reviews we have experienced in the last 12 months or so.

First, Mr Hooper has challenged the question.  Although tasked by the Government to take forward the Hargreaves Review recommendation to develop a DCE, he has first asked whether it is really necessary.  (Compare and contrast with the dutiful way in which the Hargreaves Review accepted wholesale the posed premise that copyright is “not fit for purpose”.) By prodding a stick at some of the under-cooked assumptions of the Hargreaves report Mr Hooper has achieved two important things: he has gained the trust and respect of the creative community; and he has been able to expose and remedy some of the holes in the first analysis (the best example being to point out the obvious distinction between the cost of licensing transactions and the cost of rights themselves).

The second innovation (although it should scarcely deserve the name) has been to engage positively with rightsholders, the very people whose intellectual property will be the lifeblood of the DCE, should it come into existence.  The Hooper team have had over 60 meetings in the course of the past two months, a great many of them with copyright holders, as they worked to get a grip on the fascinating complexity that is the world of copyright.  This willingness to engage  with a clearly open mind was, to many of us who have been through both wringers over the last year, hugely refreshing. 

However, many of the Hooper round-tables with rightsholders were slightly fractious.  Whatever the merits of the DCE concept, it has been difficult for many to get past the fact that it is a recommendation from the Hargreaves Review - a document which amongst other proposals recommends the end of licensing of content mining, cloud services and (we now see) photocopying in schools.  There is a very natural reluctance to play ball with a policy process which looks like it wants to take your ball away.

Throughout the process we at The PA have been at pains to stress to Mr Hooper, and indeed the wider political audience, that the Government should not be attempting to ride two horses at once.  With the DCE reins in one hand and the copyright consultation in the other, the Intellectual Property Office risks having its legs pulled wider and wider apart.  The DCE speaks to a market-based, fully voluntary, facilitation of licensing, where IP is respected and used as the basis for driving economic growth.  However, the consultation looks to weaken copyright, undermine licensing and forestall the development of new business models, with a clear detrimental impact on growth.

The Government should suspend progress with its proposed radical re-writing of copyright law until such time as the DCE has got off the ground and into operation.  If, as all believe, it could greatly improve the speed and ease of copyright licensing, then many of the problems identified by Hargreaves will disappear.  This will obviate the need for policies that weaken copyright and which, at the last time of checking the IPO’s assessment of their impact on growth in the British economy, were predominantly described with the phrase, worrying for its vagueness, “not quantified”.


Written on Monday, 13 February 2012 10:18 by Richard Mollet

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