Government looks at 'digital rights agency' to police use of copyright content online


Creators, commercial rights-holders and industry groups are all asked to take part in a discussion exploring the potential benefits of a new agency and the impact it would have in combating illegal online file-sharing and piracy.

Minister of State for Intellectual Property, David Lammy said:
"A properly worked out rights agency could be a real step forward. We can't have a system where even net-surfing 12 year olds have to understand copyright in order to keep themselves and their parents safe within the law.

"The real prize here is a rights agency that sorts out the complexities that keep consumers on the right side of the law, and ensure artists get properly paid.

"We need to make it easier for consumers to do the right thing. The internet has become an integral part of daily life. You shouldn't need to be an underwriter to take out an insurance policy, and you shouldn't need legal training to surf the web."
Minister for Technology, Communications and Broadcasting, Stephen Carter, said:

"Britain's creative industries are respected and admired the world over and are hugely important to our national competitiveness. But in the new digital age, copyright infringement has become easier and more socially acceptable, so it's clear we need some form of legislative backstop for the protection of rights as well as new and innovative ways to access legal content."

He added:

"Today we have published proposals in the form of a Straw Man on digital rights. That Straw Man could be torched, tolerated or a touchstone for the start point of constructive debate and design. I for one hope it is the latter."

Key issues raised in the discussion paper published by the Intellectual Property Office today include:

  • How to educate and change consumer behaviour towards copyright material;
  • How to support industry efforts in developing new and attractive legal ways for consumers to access content
  • How to support legislation to address consumer activity that breaches civil copyright law and how to tackle persistent infringement;
  • How to enable technical copyright-support solutions that work for both consumers and content creators;
  • Whether or not the Agency should be an independent industry body with back-up legal powers held by Ofcom
  • How such an agency can be funded

All these issues will be publicly addressed in a discussion forum later this spring but comments are welcome before then.

The original recommendation for a 'digital rights agency' appeared in the Digital Britain Interim report, published at the end of January. The report represents an ambitious and strategic plan to accelerate growth in the digital industries and cement the UK's position as a world leader for innovation, quality and investment.

Action 11 of the Digital Britain report stated: "By the time the final Digital Britain report is published the Government will have explored with interested parties the potential for a Rights Agency to bring industry together to agree how to provide incentives for legal use of copyright material; work together to prevent unlawful use by consumers which infringes civil copyright law; and enable technical copyright-support solutions that work for both consumers and content creators. The Government also welcomes other suggestions on how these objectives should be achieved."

Action 12 stated: "Before the full Digital Britain Report is published we will explore with both distributors and rights-holders their willingness to fund, through a modest and proportionate contribution, such a new approach to civil enforcement of copyright within the legal frameworks applying to electronic commerce, copyright, data protection and privacy to facilitate and co-ordinate an industry response to this challenge. It will be important to ensure that this approach covers the need for innovative legitimate services to meet consumer demand, and education and information activity to educate consumers in fair and appropriate uses of copyrighted material as well as enforcement and prevention work."

This ideas paper does not represent the formal consultation on the legislative proposals contained under Action 13 of the DBR. Comments about this paper will help inform a separate consultation on Action 13, to be issued shortly.

Civil infringement of digital copyright material has a significant detriment on creative industries (see House of Commons' Culture, Media and Sport Committee, 5th report (2007), ranging from loss of income from sales to longer term investment in the industry.