Big idea, big support

The European Commission is sometimes a confusing, strange beast. I have been to meetings and conferences organised by them countless times and have always come away not sure I knew quite what was going on.

Recently they have been been looking for Big Ideas to help formulate their digital policy and agenda. This is part of an, in my view laudable, effort to involve a wide group of stakeholders in policy development and let them help set the agenda.

One such big idea, which I have been slightly involved with, was submitted by the European Publishers Council and has made it through a selection process whittling down about 100 ideas submitted to just seven which were then discussed at the Digital Agenda Assembly at the end of last week. I was part of the panel presenting the idea at the start of the day.

Their big idea is to ensure the various standards and systems for managing copyright are interoperable, so that finding information about pieces of content and obtaining licences is easier. Boring though it sounds, this is an essential piece of plumbing (one person referred to it as “killer plumbing”) which will enable many great things to happen.

As you can see from the agenda for that session, a pretty wide group of organisations and stakeholders were represented in the discussion, from Yahoo, Amazon and Microsoft through consumer organisations, artists organisations and collecting societies to the European Parliament, as well as others who contributed from the floor.

The whole thing will be written up and responded to by the Commission in due course I’m sure. My impressions were that the idea was a big hit and will probably lead to some action on the part, mainly, of the stakeholders and hopefully with the support of the Commission to get everyone together.

I’ll post further reflections too, but for the moment my strongest impression from the day was this.

Every panellist, when asked whether they support the idea of creating a “Creative Content Access Alliance” to move the idea forward, said yes.

With the exception of Google, who said they were already supporting the Global Repertoire Database (a music industry initiative which would be an important part of the Killer Plumbing) and, er, weren’t sure if they could support an alliance.

Now, everyone was put on the spot by the question, and I suppose everyone will have the opportunity to further reflect as the process develops, but it was an interesting anomaly that only one organisation demurred from offering their support. What, I wonder, would Google have to be concerned about?

Comments

4 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Stephen Anstice,

    The article says a system for finding information about pieces of content and obtaining licences needs to be easier but with music the record labels (usually the big four multinationals hold territorial agreements. Music is distributed globally but licences are local and this is slowing down development of the distribution of music.

    • Yes. The EMI speaker at our session gave the example of a Madonna song with four writers, which meant there were 108 agreements across the 27 European licensing territories. Cross border licensing is a big issue and one of the reasons (only one, but important) that it’s stuck in a rut is exactly that it’s so difficult to pick the complications apart. If the information was easily and systematically available then new models, driven by new opportunities, would start to emerge. From the point of view of the creators, mostly they want maximum distribution as long as they get paid a fair price. Leaving aside the complications of collecting societies – which I hope and believe will have a diminishing role in a better managed future – there are some fundamental foundations needed to build on. The most important is knowing who to speak to for the rights you want. The second, which I think will naturally follow, will be automating some or all of the licensing process so that for the user it’s a simple and fairly priced transaction with the 108 (or hopefully fewer) agreements being completely invisible.

  2. Stephen Anstice,

    As an example Australian music fans continue to be denied new and cheaper music services because of out of date copyright laws and cross border licensing.

    European, U.K. and U.S. music fans can choose from free music streaming, cloud services and a choice of competitive download stores.

    Amazon Music, which is not available in Australia, is selling Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” album for $6.99 but in the Australian iTunes store it is 300 per cent more at $22.99.

    Pandora CEO, Joe Kennedy has said: “Pandora … is U.S. only—because of either flat-out inability to work licensing in other countries, or because the royalty asks are just not economic.”

    This situation is doing nothing for the creators who as you say want maximum distribution.

    • Quite. I am no fan of collecting societies (even though I used to chair one, the Newspaper Licensing Agency, although I always described it as a “reluctant” collecting society – it was sort of forced to become one). They have many defenders, and in some cases blanket licences are the best way of handling things. But my hope would be that technology can dilute and ultimately remove the need for giant, territorially based, monopolies to handle rights on behalf of huge swathes of creators. The Big Idea is one of the foundation stones upon which such a vision can be built. On its own it won’t get us there – the market will need to do that. But a market which is constantly submerged by the swamp has no chance of getting built, which is why ideas like that are so important. The real world has been slow to catch up with the borderless nature of the internet, that’s partly because it suits some of the “old world” interests and also, substantially, because it suits some of the internet players too who benefit from having few rules and little structure to the way content is managed.

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