Consumer Focus, the independent watchdog for U.K. consumers, has called for an online database to make information on licensing freely available.

The recommendation is part of Consumer Focus's response to the consultation document issued by the European Commission (EC) in October 2009, "Creative Content in a European Digital Single Market: Challenges for the Future."

The original document raised the option of an online database to make information on ownership and licensing freely available, which could make rights clearance easier for digital music service.

Consumer Focus has recommended that the EC consider such an open-platform and open-source solution. It notes that this could help bring about "multi-territory and multi-repertoire licensing, thus helping to overcome the current market fragmentation."

However, Consumer Focus adds that attempts to create automated Copyright Management Systems go back to the 1990s, and issues with regards to ownership and control of the database have made collecting societies wary of integrating their systems.

Regarding peer-to-peer file-sharing, Consumer Focus sees this as "an inevitable consequence of the failure to meet consumers' needs and expectations. The only effective solution is new business models that meet consumers' clearly expressed demand for digital services."

The watchdog refers to the "difficulties in clearing the rights to the copyrighted content" and cites the inability of cable TV company and ISP Virgin Media to launch its planned unlimited music service as scheduled in 2009 as "an example of licensing failure in the U.K."

In response, Consumer Focus said the EC should assess the impact of current licensing arrangements on competition in the online market for creative content. It also said there should be a review of how licensing arrangements with digital music services based in the EU impact on the payment of digital royalties to creators.

The U.K. watchdog also recommends that the Commission should "seek to establish extended collective licensing at a EU level for the exploitation of content online." It added that the Commission should commence work on establishing a pan-European regulatory framework for collecting societies.

Consumer Focus also urged the Commission to assess the practices and effects of the music publishers' individual pan-European licensing systems.

"Consumer Focus is supportive of the Commission's suggestion that licensing should be streamlined on a pan-European basis," it said in its response to the consultation. "However, it is important to note that under collective management of rights, there is typically only one supplier of licenses to the user of copyright works in one particular domain of rights. This lack of competition means that market prices cannot form licenses to users or services to right holders."