Copyright Hub launches phase 1 consultation pilot

[caption id="attachment_1381" align="alignright" width="240"]NASA/Goddard/SDO - Richard Hooper’s burning ambition for the copyright hub NASA/Goddard/SDO - Richard Hooper’s burning ambition for the copyright hub[/caption]

How did we get to the idea of a copyright hub?

There are some people who know quite a bit about the copyright hub but many who still look blank when the hub is mentioned. At the risk of boring the former – a quick summary:

The Government commissioned a review on intellectual property and growth (the Hargreaves Review).

From this review, Professor Hargreaves recommended, among other things,  the creation of a cross sectoral digital copyright exchange (DCE).

The Government then appointed Richard Hooper CBE in November 2011 to lead an independent review. There were two phases to the review, a diagnostic phase and a solutions phase.

A government report: IPO, Copyright Works: Streamlining Copyright for the Digital Age, was published in July 2012  written by Richard Hooper and Dr Ros Lynch.  This report recommended the creation of a UK-based Copyright Hub.

This hub, based in the UK, was intended to link (according to the Streamlining Copyright for the Digital Age report) ‘interoperably and scalably to the growing national and international network of private and public sector digital copyright exchanges, rights registries and other copyright-related databases, using agreed cross-sectoral and cross-border data building blocks and standards, based on voluntary, opt-in, non-exclusive and pro-competitive principles.

The Copyright Hub will serve in the UK and beyond a wide range of copyright licensors (rights holders, creators and rights owners in both commercial and cultural worlds) on the supply side and a wide range of copyright licensees/users on the demand side’.

How is the copyright hub taking shape?

The Streamlining Copyright for the Digital Age report recommended a steering group be established to drive the Copyright Hub forward. The Copyright Hub Launch Group (CHLG) was established with the task of overseeing the design, funding and the governance of the Copyright Hub and its IT strategy and implementation. The formation of an overall steering group was also recommended and the Copyright Licensing Steering Group (CLSG), covers this role.

On 8 July 2013, the Copyright Hub launched a consultation pilot. You can find it and follow progress at http://www.copyrighthub.co.uk/.  The copyright hub currently describes itself on its website as ‘a web portal connected to a network of organisations from the audio-visual, publishing, music and images sectors of the creative industries (which includes DCEs that do automated licensing). It is also a forum for collaboration between the different creative sectors and their organisations.’

The following organisations are members of the CHLG: CLA, NLA, PLS, PPL, PRS for music, CCC, Soundmouse, BAPLA, British Library, Pearson, BDB Law,  Getty Images, BBC, CRA, Freemantle Media,  Museums DCE,  Warner Chappell and the Linked Content Coalition.

In terms of governance, the hub states that: ‘all organisations providing services and thus connecting to the Copyright Hub would become members of Copyright Hub Ltd, a not for profit company limited by guarantee. Annual membership fees for connecting to the Hub, if introduced, would form part of the revenue base of the Hub as noted above. The members would appoint a Board to run the company as set out in the Articles of Association.’

The language contained in the press releases that accompany the launch of the pilot is conservative, almost underwhelming. The hub seems to be aiming to start small in terms of funding, functionality and growth. It initially looks like a fairly crude gathering together of websites, DCEs, and databases and an aid to navigation. Since it still appears to be aimed at high-volume, low-value transactions, this small scale beginning is probably wise although one of the concerns voiced about the hub is that it will not be profitable either due to poor levels of opting in by rights holders or low licensing values and transaction costs preventing it from being able to self-fund.

What is going to happen next?

Phase 1 is the pilot phase of the copyright hub and it has already launched. 12 suppliers will offer a simple signposting and navigation service hyperlinking to the relevant parts of suppliers’ websites. Additional suppliers will be added in Phase 1b and this is expected to happen towards the end of 2013.

Phase 2 is expected to roll out in 2014.  The hub plans to turn from simple hyperlinking to operating an intelligent "router" (based on existing, not new, technologies). The intelligent router at the hub will be able to carry out federated searches (the hub sends queries to rights managers’ databases, and they return answers to the user via the hub). In addition to federated search, multi-repertoire licences may be offered.

A Phase 3 is planned, mooted to come in in 2015. This is where extra functionality and aggregation may be implemented.

What does this mean for lawyers?

The hub is an exciting idea because of what it might become in a society that is moving ever towards digital methods of working but it will probably not result in increased work for lawyers  - the hub has the opposite aim. Those who operate at the SME level of the market and below might pick up some work in an advisory role perhaps while the hub is young, and those clients might then go on to provide work in other legal areas. There may be disputes surrounding licensing fees, wrongful or incorrect use of works and orphan works. None of this type of work  is likely to be cost effective for lawyers.

In a document that accompanied the consultation pilot’s press release (Charting a course for the Copyright Hub in the Spring 2013 ) dated 6 June 2013, Richard Hooper and Ros Lynch state the style of the hub’s approach to be: ‘voluntary, opt-in, non-exclusive, pro-competitive and not for profit. Respecting the rights of rights holders to offer free use of their works. Organic, build-up step by step (evolutionary) as we get real experience of what customers/rights users want and need, and what suppliers wish to provide. Not going too fast but also not going too slowly. Not building out a vast infrastructure in the hope that “they will come”. Not duplicating infrastructure of members. Not competing with members.’ This description did not give me a sense of what was going to attract content industries to it. If there isn’t a big opt-in from rights holders and the bodies that represent them, the hub may quickly become unfit for (any) purpose.

Having listened to Richard Hooper, Chair of the CHLG, delivering the annual Charles Clark Lecture at the London Book Fair this year, the energy and optimism behind the project is evident. In that lecture Richard Hooper also said that he felt determined to try to make copyright simple.  That is an enticing goal but, without a more legal basis underpinning the hub, the danger is that it may end up being more confusing to those seeking to use it and of less use than the current system.

For further news coverage and more detailed guidance about the copyright hub, (LexisPSL®IP  & IT subscribers), please see:

Will the proposed 'Copyright Hub' benefit the industry?

Report: Industry should lead on new 'Copyright Hub'

Practice Note: Collecting societies (produced in partnership with Boyes Turner)

Joshy Thomas is a solicitor in the Lexis PSL®IP & IT team

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