It has never been easier to distribute creative work. And it has never been harder to get paid for it. The internet has been an impressive engine of economic growth, but a large proportion of that has gone to a small number of technology companies. Digital piracy (copyright infringement of digital media) has increasingly threatened the economic performance of the industries responsible for these creative works. Based on 2010 projections and assuming no significant policy changes, the European Union’s creative industries could expect to see cumulative retail revenue losses of as much as €240 billion by 2015, resulting in 1.2 million jobs lost by 2015 (Tera Consulting, 2010).
There are currently laws against the theft of content: copyright. But the internet currently rewards the cost cutting of the value of content, and rewards the illegal sharing of content for free – at the expense of the potential for innovation and excellence. The purpose of copyright is for the progress of the arts, not just about encouraging participation. Quality as well as quantity matters. But copyright is a clutter of confusions across jurisdictions, and privacy law is a mess without frontiers. There is a world wide web of content without the support of a world wide law underpinning it.
The creative and cultural industries, the content producers, the message producers, can not sustain the creation of free digital content within their traditional business models. The commercialisation or monetisation opportunities of digital content are different for technologists and the content creators, and therein lies the current tension. To extend Marshall McLuhan’s metaphor: the medium – the pipes of broadband cables that the telecommunications companies own, the softwares and platforms that host the content – can grow at the expense of the message if the message is available to the consumer for free.
Piracy may have been the killer app that drove demand for better broadband, but unfettered it makes it very difficult for the content industries to realise the commercial potential online of their products. Technology makes certain things inevitable: broadband speeds will get faster, computers will get more powerful, almost everything related to either one will get cheaper. Technology does not however dictate how the resulting networks are set-up, or how politicians regulate them.
Internet piracy is on the agenda in the US and here in the UK, with a feasibility study currently underway on a Digital Copyright Exchange (or Copyright Hub). The Digital Copyright Exchange is shaping the culture of the internet for the Creative Industries (Intellectual Property Office, 2012 ). “Copyright licensing… is not fit for purpose for the digital age” is the hypothesis of the Intellectual Property Office’s Digital Copyright Exchange Feasibility Study (DCE). The DCE study is part of a wider consultation on changes to the UK copyright system in response to the Hargreaves Report. One of the recommendations of that report is to create a Digital Copyright Exchange. The UK could see a not-for-profit, industry-led ‘copyright hub’ that includes a copyright registry, in recommendations made by Richard Hooper in his report tackling digital copyright and infringement published. Creative Industries businesses (including AmbITion Scotland) have submitted evidence on their experience and opinion about what the value and risk of such an exchange would be, and this is currently being reviewed (November 2012). Update: In March 2013, Lord Younger, Minister for Intellectual Property, announced that £150,000 of Government money would fund the Hub. The Government grant will help to kick-start the idea emanating from the Hargreaves Review to make the goal of the Hub a reality. Update: July 2013 saw the launch of copyrighthub.co.uk, with basic copyright advice and news about the development of the hub. “When completed, the Hub will be a portal with intelligent connections to a wide range of websites, digital copyright exchanges and databases in the UK and around the world, with the focus on making copyright licensing easier in the digital age” says the site.
Obviously the creative, cultural and heritage industries have a responsibility to deal with copyright properly – if we as a sector are pirating work (accidentally or on purpose!) how can we expect anyone else to respect and respond to our own efforts at protecting and capitalising our own work?
During this time when the copyright exchange of copyrighthub.co.uk is still under development, (when complete, it would make dealing with other peoples’/organisations’ and your own copyrights easier), there are a number of organisations that exist to protect the copyrights of creative and cultural practitioners. They must be negotiated with if any digital content you are considering creating contains work by artists and creatives that you yourself have not created, produced, or commissioned.