A range of organisations from across the global creative industries have formed a coalition with the aim of developing a universal standard framework for licensing out use of their copyrighted material.
The Linked Content Coalition (LCC) officially launched late last month and said its "remit" over the next year is to "create the right conditions for a fully connected standards-based rights management and communications infrastructure."
"In order to grow the digital economy for the benefit of businesses and consumers alike, a more effective and universal deployment of technology is required to make copyright work on the web," the LCC said in a statement. "LCC's role will largely be to encourage existing standards organisations to work together to develop a common communication for cross-media rights management."
"Participants in the project will be tasked with identifying what works, what doesn't work, what exists already and what is yet required. Recommendations will be made and technical work will be undertaken to lay the foundation for a fully connected standards-based communications infrastructure to facilitate the management of online copyright."
"Technical work will be undertaken by experts from across the media industry and recommendations will be made to link the various strands of rights-management data needed for the modern management of online copyright. This approach will benefit business users and consumers trying to find and use material, and will be business-model neutral so will facilitate commercial and non-commercial/cultural use of content," it said.
The LCC said that the "infrastructure" would be "neutral with respect to regulatory, commercial and technical environments" and be "flexible to the changes which will inevitably occur in each of these over time." It added that it hopes to begin developing a "technical demonstrator" from the beginning of next year.
Major international brands from across the film, music, publishing and broadcast industries are among the members of the LCC, including EMI, Microsoft and Pearson. UK firms including ITV and News International are also represented in the coalition. Trade bodies representing the various industries as well as groups responsible for licensing content also make up the members list of the LCC.
The LCC said that the development of technology and the internet had driven the need for improvements in licensing models and that its project is backed by the European Commission.
"The LCC’s aim is to facilitate online media and therefore make a significant contribution to the future of the digital economy," it said. "We are taking this story around the world to audiences of businesses, consumers and regulators. The LCC is not about changing copyright law but about creating the infrastructure to enable current copyright law to work properly and in a way that encourages innovation and investment in the sector."
The creative industries have faced criticism over the way they license use of copyrighted content amidst ongoing battles against piracy.
Following a recent ruling by the UK's High Court in which it order a number of internet service providers (ISPs) to block their customers' access to a copyright infringing website, the Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA) issued a statement claiming that those forms of court orders would not in themselves be sufficient to end piracy.
"Whilst it is right that a judge, and not ISPs, made the call to block the Pirate Bay and shows that the existing legal framework contains the necessary powers for rights holders to protect their copyright online, the blocking of websites should not be viewed as a silver bullet," the ISPA said at the time of the ruling. "We hope that this litigation will be followed by the continued development of innovative fully-licensed online services by rights holders, which is the most effective way to tackle online copyright infringement," it had added.
In the UK a "feasibility study" is currently ongoing to establish whether a new digital copyright exchange (DCE) is a suitable mechanism with which to improve the current system of licensing copyrighted works. A similar proposal has been put forward at EU level by the European Commission.
A DCE was proposed by a leading academic in a Government-commissioned review of the UK's intellectual property framework last year.
Professor Ian Hargreaves had proposed that an online mechanism could enable rights holders to licence the use of their material through "a network of interoperable databases". He said a DCE would benefit the UK economy by up to £2 billion, encourage legal use of copyrighted content and help small companies establish themselves on the market.
In August the Government announced its support for the DCE, vowed to make state-owned copyrighted works available through the new system and said it would encourage public bodies to do likewise. Late last year it appointed former Ofcom chairman Richard Hooper to lead the feasibility study into a DCE.
Following 'phase one' of his study, Hooper published a report in March which said that the "overarching" problem currently affecting copyright licensing in the UK is in how legitimate content is made available digitally. If media companies improved the processes for online licensing there would be less justification for piracy and a "stronger political will" to tackle the issue, it said.
Licensing processes and licensing organisations are too complex and there is too much of a disparity between what can be licensed digitally and what can be licensed in the "physical" world, the report said. The is also a problem with the amount of work, expense and complexity involved in licensing high volumes of copyrighted content digitally for low value, it said.
It is also too difficult to determine "who owns what rights to what content in what country" and in ensuring content creators are paid their "fair share of revenues" when their work is used and reused, the report said. Information about copyright is also communicated differently in depending on which creative sector the work belongs to and across different countries which also causes problems, it said.
The report said that whilst licensing may work well within individual industries, the increasing "blurring" of content boundaries means the overall framework is not as efficient or modern as it could be.
Hooper is due to propose solutions to the problems he identified following 'phase two' of his study. He is expected to present his findings to Parliament before the summer recess.
In his March report Hooper said that there may not be a "single solution" and that a network of multiple digital copyright exchanges, as suggested by the Open Digital Policy Organisation, is a possibility.
However, "ideally" solutions will be industry-led and funded, operate across different sectors and be "international in focus," the report said. They should be "clear, open and freely accessible" as well as voluntary to use with incentives for rights holders to participate. Any new system should also reduce piracy as well as the incentives to infringe, increase competition and recognise and protect the rights of creators and their investment in content, it said.
The solutions should result in the creative market growing and result in economic growth and innovation. Consumers should also derive "wider social benefits" from the new framework which in itself should be "trusted, authoritative, confidence-giving and flexible," the report said.
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