In the silence of mid-summer, the Copyright hub launched its first practical initiative. For those who do not know, which is the vast majority of everyone reading this, the Copyright Hub is the brainchild of the UK effort to help drag copyright legislation into the XXI century. It is a not-for-profit think tank designed to suggest and offer practical solutions to solve once and for all issues of rampant copyright infringement and orphan works. Government approved and donation funded, it seeks to get the ball rolling on finding practical and usable solutions for those that seek to legally use content ( music, video, text, photos) and those that wish to control how their content is used.
Created in March 2013 with initial funding from the UK government ( £ 150,000), it has since been hard at work communicating with key stakeholders, content creators and tech companies alike, to find and offer solutions to make the use of copyright material easy for everyone. It is a vast and ambitious undertaking and one already attempted by others.
Key to understanding the reason behind the Hub and other like it is understanding the great push for a leaner process for usage of copyrighted material. In the photography world, most photo agencies have been hard at work to streamline the legal usage of their content. But in the vast immense of the internet, its voice is hardly heard. Tech companies, processing trillion of terabytes per second from vast servers farms in the middle of the Oklahoma wasteland have little patience for a system that requires a multitude of checkpoints and highly decentralized. So, for lack of any practical solutions, it has forged ahead, using quickly redacted laws to navigate in the shaded areas between legal and infringement. To make matter worse, they are followed by troves of individuals who couldn’t care less if the content they are using is copyrighted or not. Finally, organizations who would like to play by the rules but cannot find the appropriate authorization they need and are left in frustrating limbo. In others words, the system is broken. And that’s what the hub is trying to fix.
The tower of babel of photography
The common approach the Copyright Hub and others have taken is the most obvious: Take all images created ( we will speak of photos only here to make the discussion easier), link them to their copyright owners, put them in one central database. Any potential user can them check who owns the image they wish to use and contact them. Voila. Simple.
Not so. For one, there are hundreds of millions of images held by professional licensing organisms, another set of billions in photo sharing sites ( Flickr, Instagram, etc) on top of which there almost 2 billion photos uploaded a day. To which you can add the millions held by museums, universities, private businesses. And then there are all the photos taken pre-digital days with the vast majority never scanned. It’s a Sisyphean task. Regardless, if you build it, they will come and a bit of a solution is better than none.
Problem : From private companies looking to make a fortune ( just think, if you charge a few cents per query the automated revenue you can generate) to consortiums of photo licensing agencies ( Cepic, PACA) looking to control and protect their turf, to not for profit projects ( Plus Coalition, Copyright Hub), it seems everyone is building a registry these days. And most registries don’t play nice with each other, wanting to be the only one in the game ( winner gets all). Besides the not for profit whose only goal is to reach legendary notoriety, all the others would like the others to die. Which makes the building of a registry an even more complex task. Having a multitude of registries each with different exclusive content will not solve anything for anyone.
Do we call the police?
One key player that could set the rules is, and will be, governments. If a legislation, (or decree or whatever is legally binding) is passed naming one registry as the only valid registry, it will be the winner as it will offer legal protection for due diligence process. But unless its government operated and funded, governments usually do not get involved in appointing one company over another ( at least in democratic capitalistic countries). And then there is the international issue: Wouldn’t the Italians want their registry be the chosen one? Or does each country have their own? and if so, that will create another hundred or so registries ( does Lichtenstein get one ?).
Which brings us back to the Copyright Hub. While their timing is ill-chosen, announcing anything in Europe during the month of August is akin to making an announcement from the middle of the Sahara desert, the effort is to be recommended. If nothing is done, nothing will be done so any initiatives that any attempts to get the ball rolling is a positive. Along with the PLUS coalition and others that have been in the process of cracking this issue for a while, it does have a good chance of succeeding in the long run. What needs to happen next is to have the private and somewhat private initiatives drop their selfish and protectorate bids and fully back, for the success of all, the ones that have a true chance of succeeding. This is a case where competition, is neither welcomed nor healthy.
Photo by macowell