Copyright Matters: Copyright Conversations with the United Kingdom

The following was written by Mark DesMeules of American Continental Group

On Monday, the U.S. Copyright Office hosted a Copyright Matters program titled Copyright Conversations with the United Kingdom: A View from Across the PondThe program featured a dialogue between Maria Pallante, Register of Copyrights, and John Alty, Chief Executive Officer and Comptroller General at the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) of the United Kingdom. The conversation also included several senior Copyright Office officials, UK IPO Director of International Policy Neil Feinson, and Deputy Director of International Policy Adam Williams. The officials discussed the copyright policy issues that are currently being faced by both countries, including: orphan works, extended collective licensing, small claims, and recent efforts in both countries to modernize their copyright legal systems for the digital age. The event was well attended with a number of individuals from both policy and industry.

John Alty emphasized a rapid shift to digital in the UK, noting the increasingly digital shift seen in UK publishing firms. With the transformation, however, comes the issue of digital licensing — a matter where the general sentiment is that the system is inefficient and expensive for “small value – large volume” hauls. The issue of increasing the efficiency of collective licensing is one that the UK is hoping to address. The private sector has taking the lead on this initiative. An industry group in the UK that includes actors from all sides of copyright has launched the CopyrightHub, a website that provides users with a jargon-free map for navigating and acquiring licenses for copyrighted goods. The hub was first suggested in the influential Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property and Growth that was released in 2011, where Cardiff University Professor Ian Hargreaves recommended the creation of a digital copyright exchange.

Since the release of the Hargreaves Review, Alty’s office has been in listening mode, taking in comments from stakeholders. Key issues that have been raised amongst copyright holders and users include the need to access copyright more easily in a controlled environment and how to address orphan works. The CopyrightHub covers the former, and the recently passed Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act addresses the latter. The Act, which achieved royal ascent in the UK in April, opens up orphan works for use by third parties, provided they have conducted a diligent, but unsuccessful search for the owner. Photographers in the country have expressed anger over the new provision.

Alty said that while online infringement continues to be an issue, UK research is showing that piracy rates have stabilized. The hope is to see a downward trend, which is being facilitated by a copyright alert system and the creation of an intellectual property crime unit in London that focuses on serious infringement (peer-to-peer downloading both domestically and internationally). The IPO has also been working on bringing small claims to justice, with a big picture focus on ensuring a well functioning copyright system. Working with the EU in its examination of copyright has been a priority of the UK as well, especially as debate intensifies around issues of copyright. The UK will put out its own framework for EU copyright later this year; the IPO is currently soliciting comments on its pending framework. Alty stated further that the UK looks forward to working with U.S. industry and officials on the matter.