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New Statesman - and companies that want "free" use of others’ intellectual property view copyright as a cumbersome and outdated regulation.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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Stephen Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising space makes him almost as bad as Trump

The physicist's inistence on mankind's expansion risks making him a handmaiden of inequality.

“Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves,” Stephen Hawking has warned. And he’s not just talking about surviving the UK's recent run of record breaking heat. If humanity doesn’t start sending people to Mars soon, then in a few hundred years he says we can all expect to be kaput; there just isn’t enough space for us all.

The theoretical physicist gave his address to the glittering Starmus Festival of science and arts in Norway. According to the BBC, he argued that climate change and the depletion of natural resources help make space travel essential. With this in mind, he would like to see a mission to Mars by 2025 and a new lunar base within 30 years.

He even took a swipe at Donald Trump: “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen.”

Yet there are striking similarities between Hawking's statement and the President's bombast. For one thing there was the context in which it was made - an address to a festival dripping with conspicuous consumption, where 18 carat gold OMEGA watches were dished out as prizes.

More importantly there's the inescapable reality that space colonisation is an inherently elitist affair: under Trump you may be able to pay your way out of earthly catastrophe, while for Elon Musk, brawn could be a deciding advantage, given he wants his early settlers on Mars to be able to dredge up buried ice.

Whichever way you divide it up, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to RightMove their way to a less crowded galaxy. Hell, most people can’t even make it to Starmus itself (€800  for a full price ticket), where the line-up of speakers is overwhelmingly white and male.

So while this obsession with space travel has a certain nobility, it also risks elevating earthly inequalities to an interplanetary scale.

And although Hawking is right to call out Trump on climate change, the concern that space travel diverts money from saving earth's ecosystems still stands. 

In a context where the American government is upping NASA’s budget for manned space flights at the same time as it cuts funds for critical work observing the changes on earth, it is imperative that the wider science community stands up against this worrying trend.

Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising the solar system risks playing into the hands of the those who share the President destructive views on the climate, at the expense of the planet underneath us.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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