Getting the copyright balance right

MA Publishing student Samantha Perkins looks at the current challenges of copyright law and licensing, and how they might be solved. Her post is based on the Charles Clark Memorial Lecture given at the London Book Fair. The talk was presented by Richard Hooper CBE, Chairman of the Copyright Hub Launch Group and co-author of the Copyright Works report, which assessed and made recommendations for the future of copyright.

Richard Hooper

Photo by: Duncan Soar/, with thanks to Lois Bray from The Copyright Licensing Agency

‘Wars of Attrition’

Hooper began by identifying the four opposing opinions, or ‘wars’, that surround and influence changes in copyright licensing:

1. Online Digital Content: Free vs. Paid For
A war between those who believe the Internet should be free and those who think income from advertising alone is not enough.

2. The use of Copyright: For vs. Against
A war between those who believe copyright is an obstacle to economic growth and those who see copyright and its protection as fundamental to this growth.

3. Internet: Ungoverned vs. Subject to the Law
A war between those who believe the Internet should be ungoverned and those who feel it should be subject to the general law and stricter regulation is/will be needed.

4. Internet: Pure good vs. A Darker Side
A war between those who believe the Internet should receive no criticism and those who are increasingly concerned about problems such as piracy, pornography, child abuse, cyber-bulling, invasion of privacy, and so on…

As there is no true right or wrong side in any of these situations, Hooper believes the way to resolve these conflicts is to achieve a compromise between exclusive rights and reasonable access.

Rather than focusing on the enforcement of laws and their regulation, Hooper promotes the use of more preventative tactics to achieve this balance. He gave the following two examples to highlight areas where copyright currently fails to protect creators and the creative industries.

Repertoire imbalance

Repertoire imbalance, says Hooper, occurs when copyrighted works are more widely available to the public in their physical form, but there is little or no legal access to digital copies. Hooper uses the example of  the film subscription service LOVEFiLM, whose internet site offers over 70,000 DVDs for loan to customers, while only 8,000 films are available  to rent online. This imbalance increases the incentive  for customers who desire easy and instant access to these products to source pirate copies.

How to solve it?

Hooper believes the simplification of copyright will make it easier for creative industries to address this issue:


By making digital content instantly available and easy to access, the inclination to source pirate copies will be greatly reduced, as consumers opt for widely available (and virus free) digital copies.

Orphan works

Many digital works lack metadata, which leads to creators and rights owners not being identified or paid.

How to solve it?

Improved software and the use of unique identifiers for copyrighted works by all creative industries. While publishing already has the ISBN, it does not allow for identification of individual chapters, images, charts or other pieces of discrete content  – showing that there is a need for a subset of the ISBN. Digital Object Identifiers (DOI) can allow for this and many publishers are already using them, including Wiley who sell access to single chapters.

Image by: Libby Levi/

The solutions to both these copyright conflicts might well come from the Copyright Hub.

The Copyright Hub

The Copyright Hub arose from Ian Hargreaves’ recommendations for a digital copyright exchange. Its aim is ‘to be the technological embodiment of streamlined licensing via signposting and good knowledge of who owns what rights to what’ and it has three main purposes:


It will signpost and provide easy navigation around the detailed copyright information that it will make available.


Rights owners will be able to register their rights, any licences given and permissions granted.


It will allow for the license of copyrighted material easily, at a low transaction cost.

Although Hooper boasts a low transaction cost, he makes no comment on the cost of obtaining a licence, whether there will be a pay-scale depending on use, or how thorough the search for rights owners of orphan works will be. Despite this, both Copyright Works and the Hargreaves Report suggest the Hub’s primary focus will be on creators and rights owners. However, there are rights owners who strongly oppose the proposals, as this petition against ‘legalised theft’ of copyrighted material shows.

What next?

Hooper closed with the following advice:

To the Government – stop debating and change copyright law

To politicians – enforce copyright regulations more vigorously

To technology companies – stop suing each other and act on piracy

And, finally, to us publishers – ‘It is important to be in the right place at the right time. I believe that you have got yourself into the right place at the right time.’

Copyright reform is greatly needed but it is equally important that any changes are open to adaptation as the digital age continues to evolve. Should the Hub and other proposals fulfil their aims, creators, rights owners and customers will have access to a simplified more profitable collection of copyrighted works.

Samantha PerkinsSamantha Perkins has just completed the first year of her part-time Publishing MA at Kingston University.

 To find out more about strategies for ensuring copyright is fit for purpose in the digital age, download the full transcript of Richard Hooper’s lecture.


One response to “Getting the copyright balance right

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s