The perils of a "use now, pay later" approach to intellectual property

Andy Williams, Managing Director of ITN’s licensing arm, makes his argument for a robust and fair copyright framework.

This article is a reponse to Benjamin White's piece "Copyright for a digital age", which recently appeared on the New Statesman blog.

It’s hard to get excited about copyright but the argument of what constitutes fairness in copyright and how intellectual property law can stimulate the economy is now the subject of Parliamentary and industry debate concerning controversial measures in the Enterprise & Regulatory Reform Bill and an impending announcement from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO).

On one side, rights holders like ITN are deeply concerned about the proposed dismantling of a robust intellectual framework that underpins significant investment in content creation and preservation. Meanwhile public bodies such as the British Library - whose Benjamin White recently voiced his opinions for the New Statesman - and companies that want "free" use of others’ intellectual property view copyright as a cumbersome and outdated regulation. Whichever side of the fence you’re on, the impact of the decisions made in coming months by Parliament, the Government and the IPO will be enormous.  

A relaxation of copyright law may help the British Library cut down on the time it takes to clear rights and digitise its materials, but the extent of the radical proposals on the table for usage of orphan works, introduction of new and wider exceptions for "free" usage of copyright material, and a scheme for Extended Collective Licensing will go much further than just helping public sector institutions to better serve researchers. The very same measures could stifle actual creation of content in the medium to long term, devastate vast swathes of the creative industries - which employ two million people and contribute 6 per cent to GDP - and permit those who don’t invest in UK original content to freely benefit from others’ work.

The creative industries rely on a business model underpinned by a fair and robust copyright framework to discourage and legislate against illegal use. There are quite rightly instances that allow for free use of copyright material – for example an exception to copyright for news reporting is vital to freedom of speech and expression; but the IPO has proposed that a wide range of free usage could be introduced in instances of parody, education and a particularly grey area of "quotations". The policy statement confirming which additional exceptions they plan to implement is due before the end of the year. However, in calling for a lowering of the barrier for free usage of intellectual property, technology companies, public bodies and consumer groups may well find that if they get their wish then the content they want to use freely rather than pay a licence for will simply dry up or not be digitised for mass usage. It’s a commercial reality that if there isn’t a financial incentive then investment in content creation and preservation will suffer.

In addition, proposals for Extended Collective Licensing may seem attractive in offering a time-saving rights clearance mechanism for the British Library, but the opt-out nature of the scheme and scant detail could lead to organisations springing up to license others’ content on their behalf without their knowledge and consent. There are fears about lack of transparency, inappropriate use of sensitive material, undercutting of prices and what US photography groups describe as a “firestorm of international litigation”. It’s bizarre that this is seen as necessary when a Copyright Hub is being developed by Richard Hooper and companies are already investing millions to digitise content and put it online to make it easy to find and be licensed.  

There are, however, potential benefits to establishing a way to license orphan works – whether through UK legislation or implementing a recent EU Directive - as this could free up content that would otherwise lay dormant; but the system must protect creators’ rights by having appropriate safeguards such as clear rules on what constitutes a diligent search to find the owner of a particular piece of intellectual property. A "use now, pay later" approach as advocated by Benjamin White concerns me greatly as less scrupulous organisations could see an orphan works system as a means simply to avoid paying for a licence.

It’s also worth thinking back to the origination of all of these proposals – the Hargreaves Review, which hailed evidence-based recommendations that such measures could help grow the economy by £5.5bn per annum. ITN, along with many of the other 471 respondents to the subsequent IPO Consultation on Copyright, has helped to show that this projection simply doesn’t stack up. Rather, unpicking our copyright regime will take money out of the UK economy as inward and domestic investment and syndication of original content is stalled or cancelled.

The risk becomes even more urgent when you consider that the copyright measures as currently drafted in the Enterprise & Regulatory Reform Bill before the House of Lords would enable much of this sea-change to happen by secondary legislation. Whether in favour of a change in copyright law or against it, no one should want fundamental alterations to be made without full parliamentary scrutiny and debate when there is so much at stake for public bodies and the commercial sector alike.

Andy Williams is Managing Director of ITN’s licensing arm ITN Source

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Qatar is determined to stand up to its Gulf neighbours – but at what price?

The tensions date back to the maverick rule of Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

For much of the two decades plus since Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani deposed his father to become emir of Qatar, the tiny gas-rich emirate’s foreign policy has been built around two guiding principles: differentiating itself from its Gulf neighbours, particularly the regional Arab hegemon Saudi Arabia, and insulating itself from Saudi influence. Over the past two months, Hamad’s strategy has been put to the test. From a Qatari perspective it has paid off. But at what cost?

When Hamad became emir in 1995, he instantly ruffled feathers. He walked out of a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) because, he believed, Saudi Arabia had jumped the queue to take on the council’s rotating presidency. Hamad also spurned the offer of mediation from the then-President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan. This further angered his neighbours, who began making public overtures towards Khalifa, the deposed emir, who was soon in Abu Dhabi and promising a swift return to power in Doha. In 1996, Hamad accused Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE of sponsoring a coup attempt against Hamad, bringing GCC relations to a then-all-time low.

Read more: How to end the stand off in the Gulf

The spat was ultimately resolved, as were a series of border and territory disputes between Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, but mistrust of Hamad - and vice versa - has lingered ever since. As crown prince, Hamad and his key ally Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani had pushed for Qatar to throw off what they saw as the yoke of Saudi dominance in the Gulf, in part by developing the country’s huge gas reserves and exporting liquefied gas on ships, rather than through pipelines that ran through neighbouring states. Doing so freed Qatar from the influence of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the Saudi-dominated oil cartel which sets oil output levels and tries to set oil market prices, but does not have a say on gas production. It also helped the country avoid entering into a mooted GCC-wide gas network that would have seen its neighbours control transport links or dictate the – likely low - price for its main natural resource.

Qatar has since become the richest per-capita country in the world. Hamad invested the windfall in soft power, building the Al Jazeera media network and spending freely in developing and conflict-afflicted countries. By developing its gas resources in joint venture with Western firms including the US’s Exxon Mobil and France’s Total, it has created important relationships with senior officials in those countries. Its decision to house a major US military base – the Al Udeid facility is the largest American base in the Middle East, and is crucial to US military efforts in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan – Qatar has made itself an important partner to a major Western power. Turkey, a regional ally, has also built a military base in Qatar.

Hamad and Hamad bin Jassem also worked to place themselves as mediators in a range of conflicts in Sudan, Somalia and Yemen and beyond, and as a base for exiled dissidents. They sold Qatar as a promoter of dialogue and tolerance, although there is an open question as to whether this attitude extends to Qatar itself. The country, much like its neighbours, is still an absolute monarchy in which there is little in the way of real free speech or space for dissent. Qatar’s critics, meanwhile, argue that its claims to promote human rights and free speech really boil down to an attempt to empower the Muslim Brotherhood. Doha funded Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups during and after the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, while Al Jazeera cheerleaded protest movements, much to the chagrin of Qatar's neighbours. They see the group as a powerful threat to their dynastic rule and argue that the Brotherhood is a “gateway drug” to jihadism. In 2013,  after Western allies became concerned that Qatar had inadvertently funded jihadist groups in Libya and Syria, Hamad was forced to step down in favour of his son Tamim. Soon, Tamim came under pressure from Qatar’s neighbours to rein in his father’s maverick policies.

Today, Qatar has a high degree of economic independence from its neighbours and powerful friends abroad. Officials in Doha reckon that this should be enough to stave off the advances of the “Quad” of countries – Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE - that have been trying to isolate the emirate since June. They have been doing this by cutting off diplomatic and trade ties, and labelling Qatar a state sponsor of terror groups. For the Quad, the aim is to end what it sees as Qatar’s disruptive presence in the region. For officials in Doha, it is an attempt to impinge on the country’s sovereignty and turn Qatar into a vassal state. So far, the strategies put in place by Hamad to insure Qatar from regional pressure have paid off. But how long can this last?

Qatar’s Western allies are also Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s. Thus far, they have been paralysed by indecision over the standoff, and after failed mediation attempts have decided to leave the task of resolving what they see as a “family affair” to the Emir of Kuwait, Sabah al-Sabah. As long as the Quad limits itself to economic and diplomatic attacks, they are unlikely to pick a side. It is by no means clear they would side with Doha in a pinch (President Trump, in defiance of the US foreign policy establishment, has made his feelings clear on the issue). Although accusations that Qatar sponsors extremists are no more true than similar charges made against Saudi Arabia or Kuwait – sympathetic local populations and lax banking regulations tend to be the major issue – few Western politicians want to be seen backing an ally, that in turn many diplomats see as backing multiple horses.

Meanwhile, although Qatar is a rich country, the standoff is hurting its economy. Reuters reports that there are concerns that the country’s massive $300bn in foreign assets might not be as liquid as many assume. This means that although it has plenty of money abroad, it could face a cash crunch if the crisis rolls on.

Qatar might not like its neighbours, but it can’t simply cut itself off from the Gulf and float on to a new location. At some point, there will need to be a resolution. But with the Quad seemingly happy with the current status quo, and Hamad’s insurance policies paying off, a solution looks some way off.