Lord Carter, the U.K. government minister preparing the country’s copyright law for the digital age, has promised to meet the complex needs of content creators within new legislation.
Speaking during a keynote today (April 30) at the annual general meeting (AGM) for PRS for Music, the U.K. collecting society, the minister of communications, technology and broadcasting, gave an update on the initiative designed to make the U.K. a major player in the global digital economy. Proposals were included an interim “Digital Britain” report in January.
Britain’s legislative stance on illegal file-sharing and copyright term extension must be established very soon, Carter said in his keynote.
“In the next five years, we’re going to be living in a world where handheld devices, portable devices and open-space communications mean the vast majority will be living with open high-speed interoperable networks,” he said at the AGM at PRS for Music’s HQ in central London. “The way people shift content will be unrecognizable. Getting the right framework in the next two to three years is critical.”
When the final report of “Digital Britain” is published in June, he continued, it will include the government’s position on intellectual property. Getting ISPs (Internet service providers) and rights holders to work together on tackling copyright-infringing P2P users will be high on the agenda.
“Unlawful P2P will come under this banner. We’re already breaking new ground with the MOU [memorandum of understanding] signed by ISPs last year,” he declared.
He says the government is also monitoring what other countries are planning to do, as there needs to be some kind of consensus if ISP intervention is to be effective.
Additionally, the move to involve ISPs in the fight against illegal P2P usage raises the sensitive issue of consumers’ privacy. “To make the digital world work, we need a balance because there is tension between those who are aggressive on the privacy side, and those who’re aggressive on the commercial side,” said Carter.
While extension of copyright protection affects mostly record producers and performers, Lord Carter’s reference to the subject was still relevant to the audience as PRS composers and publishers will be affected by the future of mechanical sales.
“We’re pleased that the European Parliament has agreed to extend copyright extension,” he said. “We shall support the extension to 70 years from 50 years as long as there are tangible benefits for performers and creators.”
Lord Carter said some European Union member states still disagreed with any extension. However, he is confident that by the time Council of the Europe (representing the member states) votes on it again, “there may be a shift in position by the member states that currently oppose the extension.”
After the “Digital Britain” report comes out in June, it will be discussed during parliamentary sessions shortly after, potentially leading to full legislation in the next two to three years.
At the AGM, PRS for Music CEO Steve Porter admitted 2009 is going to be a tough year because of the current global recession.
Despite the £608.2 million ($898.8 million) earned in revenues for 2008, an 8% increase from 2007, “we expect a small reduction in total revenues for 2009,” he said. He predicted that revenues will be slightly less than £600 million ($886.7 million).
Other future plans include making PRS for Music more relevant for songwriters and publishers in the digital age.
Another major hurdle that the society needs to overcome is the misunderstanding of copyright issues by lawmakers and consumers.
“There is still a certain amount of hostility to what we do; they keep asking ‘Is copyright relevant?’ Some think that maybe the answer is no,” said Porter.
Ellis Rich, PRS for Music chairman, touched upon the society’s current dispute with YouTube.
He said PRS was asking YouTube to boost its licensing fee to match the rapidly growing amount of music used on the Web site. YouTube began blocking music videos in March for U.K. users.
“We think it was a cynical move to exert pressure on us,” he said to the PRS for Music members in the audience. “It’s all about MeTube; they don’t care about you. It’s only ever about the money.”