Ian Hargreaves Q&A: The Man Behind The U.K.'s Groundbreaking Digital Copyright Reform Plan

Ian Hargreaves Q&A: The Man Behind The U.K.'s Groundbreaking Digital Copyright Reform Plan

Ian Hargreaves Q&A: The Man Behind The U.K.'s Groundbreaking Digital Copyright Reform Plan

Ian Hargreaves
Digital Renaissance Man: Ian Hargreaves, professor of digital economy at Cardiff University, Wales and former editor of The Independent and ex-director of BBC News.

To seal controversial loopholes in the reportedly rashly-adopted U.K. Digital Economy Act (DEA) in June 2010, the U.K.'s coalition government turned to Ian Hargreaves, professor of digital economy at Cardiff University, Wales. He was commissioned by Prime Minister David Cameron to write an independent review recommending ways to toughen copyright protection, encourage innovation within Britain's music and other creative industries, and boost the digital economy.

Called "Digital Opportunity - A Review of Intellectual Property and Growth," the report was officially commissioned in November 2010. On Aug. 3, Vince Cable, U.K. secretary of state for business, innovation and skills, announced the government had accepted Hargreaves' key recommendations, which included the creation of a groundbreaking centralized Digital Copyright Exchange. ( Billboard.biz, Aug. 03, 2011). This would enable rights owners to license their works to content users more easily.

U.K. Music Biz Reacts to Hargreaves Copyright Report

The reforms suggested also encouraged freedom to parody content including music videos. The government's approval of the recommendations was widely reported in the media. What has rarely been published is Hargreaves' own views on the state of the creative and music industries. The former editor of the national newspaper The Independent and ex-director of BBC News and Current Affairs tells Billboard why it is imperative for the music business to go totally the digital sooner than later.

Billboard: The concept of a Digital Copyright Exchange sounds like a phenomenally large amount of work to set up in the first place.
Ian Hargreaves: There have been attempts to do some of the things the Exchange is designed to do, but I don't think there's anything like the Digital Copyright Exchange in any other country. The principle is to get digital content available for standardized transactions where possible and tradable at the click of the mouse. I think we'll know in six to 12 months whether or not it will happen. I'm optimistic that it is capable of happening. If it doesn't, these markets will be organized by forces other than the music and creative industries. These [forces] include the big re-shapers of the digital space - the search-engines and social-network providers. And that is something the music industry would not like. What I'm proposing is a way of getting these markets organized at digital speed by a body which is required to take into account a balanced set of interests.

How many different countries' copyright legislation did you have to analyze and how many creative sectors did you consult to grasp the enormity of your task?
This was done in an unusually short time. The Prime Minister gave a speech about it in November 2010, we started working on it just before Christmas (2010) and finished in May this year. It was clear from that timetable we were going to have limited opportunities to travel. We did go to the U.S. for five days, including Silicon Valley, North Carolina, Harvard in Boston and Washington D.C. for meetings with movie and music rights [organizations]. You can also learn a lot by reading, and it was very obvious that all intellectual property (IP) rights are international in scope and subject to, in one form or another, international frameworks.

The government has declined to block illegal websites. But if parasite websites do business on the same digital platform (Internet) as legal ones, how could that boost the economy in any way, let alone by (the reported) nearly £8 billion ($126.3 million)?
If all the reforms are adopted, they could add between 0.3% and 0.6% to the U.K.'s annual GDP growth. How would that occur? An open and competitive market generates healthier rates of economic growth, compared with markets that are closed or unhealthily dominated by interests that are narrow.

The government says it is seeking "open and transparent" evidence from the different sectors affected by copyright law as it prepares to update the current legislation. Is the music industry transparent enough?
I think the digital marketplace is going to be significantly larger and more international than the analog era has been. However, that has to be understood in context. They must make it easier for consumers to make copies legally. Its reaction to the review has been quite diverse and quite balanced. I'm not saying all of the music industry like all aspects of it. But the smart people in the industry recognized the importance of getting digital licensing to work fast at lower transaction costs across international boundaries. Getting it to happen requires a strong and even inspirational leadership. I believe it's in the interest of musicians and the industry to embrace these changes.

In the report, you make a lucid argument for why parody should not be stifled. But what if the parody becomes a bigger hit than the original, does the original work's rights owner have a say in the matter?
The review takes a view that parody has existed in all art forms since the beginning of time. Shakespeare couldn't have written a single play if he couldn't have absorbed other people's works. The fact is that (music) videos used to be very hard to parody because you needed sophisticated video-recording equipment and technology. But now, it is easier. The technology is cheaper and the technical skills (now acquired by ordinary people) will not go away. I can understand the argument that you should not be allowed to do that to profit from someone else's work. But that freedom (to parody) should be open or you limit creativity in a way that is more negative than positive. It's a question of balance. It's time to ease up on that.

The review aims to simplify copyright law in the increasingly complex digital-media space. But didn't copyright legislation get complicated in the first place as rights owners/policy makers sought to seal the loopholes?
There are very few laws that don't have loopholes. The U.K. copyright legislation (Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988) dates back to before the creation of the Internet. The law is out of date. Is it possible to create laws where there is absolute clarity? That would be a very big challenge. But, can you get it clearer than it is today? When you talk to people, you realize that no one understood that they were breaking the law when they copied a purchased CD from their laptop on to their MP3 player. Personal format shifting is something a very large number of people do and for it to be illegal creates an environment where the law is disrespected by most people and that's an unhealthy basis for refining the law and for dealing with websites that are selling illegally. And as for orphan works, we've got vast volumes of creative material locked away as a result of the way the law is working now. I think it's a no brainer that it should be sorted out. You'll get advantages that will be difficult to quantify but be of greater benefit than it is now.

Has the UK government responded to your review in the way you expected or hoped?
I set out to think about the position the government is in. Can we get better levels of innovation and economic growth if we change things? Yes. You'll require a significant shift, of course, and there will be many arguments of interested parties to the contrary. But I'm very pleased with the government's response and I don't think I could ask for more.