The UK's Copyright Hub, designed for high-volume legit trading of copyrighted material, will launch in July.
Ultimately the service will allow individual Brits to, for example, easily license music to use in wedding videos, cat photos for calendars or illustrations for books. But not just yet.
Its chairman Richard Hooper outlined the details in a keynote at the London Book Fair yesterday. The hub is in "phase one" of its development, mainly raising awareness of its existence. It's only by "phase three" that people will be able to buy the rights to use copyrighted stuff albeit via third-party websites.
For you see, the hub is a digital rights exchange, a notion floated in the government-commissioned Hargreaves Review of UK copyright law. It is supposed to make acquiring licences for low-cost copyright works much easier. Many low-volume transactions cannot be made at all at the moment.
The hub will be largely funded by the copyright industries, whose members, according to Hooper, must get their houses in order before any kind of exchange can work: specifically, they need to start labelling and indexing their work accurately and clearly.
He accused the BBC of ignoring two standards of broadcast material metadata - the data that documents the origin and usage of the footage.
And the book, music and movie industries have, we're told, failed to catalogue their works correctly in several ways. Every title can be referred to by its unique International Standard Book Number (ISBN), but there is no agreed system for indexing what's inside each publication: in theory, it should be possible to identify and tag individual paragraphs, equations, gene sequences and so on in a text. Such a system would allow the original writer to be traced from a single extract.
Hooper claimed "everybody from the BBC to The Sun" is stripping metadata from creative works, and likened it to the tearing of ISBN codes from printed tomes.
Yet, Hooper supports the highly controversial copyright clauses included in the proposed Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (ERR) law, which will grant the commercial use of copyrighted works where the identifying information is missing, provided a "diligent search" is made.
These are the same clauses that face further scrutiny in a judicial review and could trigger a "firestorm" of lawsuits from overseas artists. Legendary photographer David Bailey called for the government to suspend the contentious legislation until the hub is up and running. Some creative businesses have withdrawn their work from the web in anticipation of the changes and others will withdraw from the UK entirely.
Hooper wants government to get the ERR, which is in its final stages before becoming law, through Parliament "as quickly as possible". He said: "We've spent years discussing changes. The current proposals are broadly sensible. No more time needs to be spent on the legislative dimension."
Not so fast, there. The ERR bill is merely the beginning, not the end, of the government's ambitious copyright reform plans. The wrecking crew has barely got going.
Hooper himself notes that the hub is not the place for low-volume high-value deals - such as Premier League football or blockbuster movie rights. You almost certainly won't be able to launch a music service using licences obtained through the exchange.
And the wedding video music example was given by Hooper, although it's likely the exchange will be used primarily to trade articles and photographs.
He also said many complaints about the upcoming changes to Blighty's copyright rules are groundless or motivated by selfishness. He said sought legitimate complaints about the new licensing system, promising to raise them with the relevant industries.
"We asked and did not get a single complaint," he told the audience.
Meanwhile, snappish snapper David Bailey said the government was "putting the cart before the horse" and called for it to put the copyright overhaul on hold - until the trading hub was up and running.
The proposed changes affect amateur togs - anyone who posts to Facebook or Instagram - as well as professional photographers: all will lose their rights. ®