Government urged to release £300m of agency ideas
The UK Government is locking away up to £300m worth of intellectual property from digital content created by agencies and production companies.
The claim by the production company trade body Pact is part of its campaign to abolish the practice whereby digital content created for government, local government, NGOs and other public bodies is held under crown copyright.
Pact, supported by the IPA, is proposing a Digital Rights Framework for all publicly funded content. This would allow greater opportunities for agencies and production companies to reuse work and stimulate a secondary rights market.
The move could enable the Government to gain revenues from licensing and release assets that would help to stimulate the digital economy.
Crown copyright prohibits material created by agencies for government bodies from being reused or re-licensed. Pact is calling instead for a move towards the pre-creation project-by-project negotiations currently employed by agencies and non-public body clients.
Pact’s lobbying efforts — which include a submission to the Digital Britain report to let digital content creators retain their intellectual property (IP), enabling the resale of content and applications — have already gained the support of agency trade body the IPA.
In an interview with new media age, Pact chief executive John McVay said, “We’re in discussions with Number 10, the Treasury and the DCMS about the role of public sector digital media. The state is warehousing IP. That’s fine when it’s something you can’t re-use, but in a digital world if you develop, say, an obesity calculator for the DoH, you could easily use this again, yet it goes under crown copyright. It’s like locking up the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Pact believes the successful overturn of the Government’s position could be as significant for digital content as the Terms of Trade agreement it secured in 2003 for TV production companies was in revolutionising the TV industry.
“Before that, every TV producer was a gun for hire on a cost-plus model, so they only made money when they were ‘awake’,” said McVay. “Making money when you’re ‘asleep’, like you can do with music, is the basic business model of any strong creative sector, whether that’s traditional TV or digital. If we get rid of the dead hand of crown copyright, then it could help stimulate this kind of creativity.”
The proposed framework employs the same principles embodied in Pact’s New Media Rights Framework negotiated with the BBC in November 2007, which gives interactive and digital content producers ownership rights of their commissioned content (nma 22 November 2007).
Marina Palomba, legal director at the IPA, said it and Pact were hopeful the forthcoming Digital Britain report would recognise the need for this situation to be addressed.
“Hundreds of thousands of pounds a year are spent creating things that are then shelved. It’s just such a waste,” she said. “But I think there is recognition of this. It will be quite an incentive for any business to know that if they create something fantastic for one client there’s the potential to license it to be used elsewhere, even globally.
“We’ve never really got anywhere with this argument before, but with Digital Britain there’s recognition that in this incredibly competitive market, if we want to retain a leading edge, there needs to be incentives for everyone to produce the best work,” Palomba added.
Creative agencies on the COI roster have welcomed the move by Pact and the IPA. Stuart Avery, MD of E3, said, “I believe it’s a positive thing. If we create an application which we could then resell in the private sector, it could mean we deliver at a reduced cost to the COI. So it has to be in its interests. It hasn’t stifled the industry but there are opportunities there.”
Buster Dover, VCCP’s head of digital, said, “For agencies this is massive issue and any progress to retain copyright in any area would be a huge step forward.”
The DCMS, the COI, Digital Britain and the Office of Public Sector Information — which is responsible for crown copyright — were unavailable for comment as new media age went to press.