Why copyright licensing is an important tool in our recovery from coronavirus

The importance of copyright licensing
As Britain begins to recover from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, copyright licensing is more important than ever, explains Rebecca Deegan, Director of Policy & Public Affairs at the British Copyright Council.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, copyright licensing has become increasingly important across the education and creative industries:

  • Publishers in the education sector have made sure that schools and universities have been able to use content to teach their students online in the face of closures. As teachers, lecturers and other academic staff use a wide range of creative resources – such as books, newspapers, websites, TV programmes, films and music etc. in their teaching.
  • In addition to traditional online content, such as e-books, music, TV and film, we have seen an explosion in ‘non-traditional’ creative content. For example, theatre performances, book readings, visual arts, photography and illustrations. This has not only helped to keep people entertained during lockdown, but also supported mental well-being.

Protecting artistic creators

The creators of this content generate an income from their works because of their copyright protection. Economic rights derived from copyright means that creators can give or deny people permission and, in turn, charge people to:

  • copy their work – which includes in print and online;
  • rent or lend copies of their work to the public (library loans operate separately under the Public Lending Right Scheme);
  • show, play or perform their work in public;
  • broadcast their work to the public – including putting the work on the internet; and
  • make an adaptation of their work (for example by translating it).
Without these rights creators would not be remunerated from their works and make a living. This would likely mean they would have to stop creating content.

While there are a number of wealthy global superstars, most writers, performers and visual artists earn well below the average UK salary. The protection of their rights – and income – will be crucial to their continuing contribution to the UK’s economy. Not to mention its highly regarded reputation as a hub of creativity and innovation, world-class education sector and rich cultural heritage.

Protecting creative industries

Due to the closure of educational institutes and cultural venues, the education and creative industries have been particularly impacted by COVID-19. Across our membership we are anticipating millions of pounds in lost revenue. This loss in revenue is not only significant for creators, but for the UK’s economy as a whole.

The UK’s creative industries accounted for 12% of all UK service exports in 2018. Not only that, but prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the sector was growing more than five times quicker than the UK economy overall.

Irrespective of whether we face a second lockdown, one way to increase income generation and tax revenue is an increased focus on stamping out illegal use of copyrighted works.

Tackling online piracy

Online piracy of films, TV, music and other digital content has proliferated during the pandemic as more content has been made available and consumed online. Online piracy is not a ‘faceless’ crime – it impacts our economy and levels of employment.

A 2019 report by the UK’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and Intellectual Property Crime Group identified that “Intellectual Property Crime is a feature of organised crime and highly profitable, accounting for £4 billion in lost tax revenue and 60,000 UK jobs”.

The key to tackling organised crime is addressing the role of online platforms such as Google, YouTube and social media channels in facilitating copyright infringement.

Currently, the onus is on individual creators to identify when their rights have been infringed, rather than the platforms having responsibility for preventing illegal content being uploaded and shared on their sites. This results in a whack-a-mole approach to preventing online piracy; as an individual creator or SME identifies an infringement of their rights and takes action, another site that infringes their rights pops up elsewhere.

Our view is that these platforms are best placed within the digital ecology to deal with illegal material efficiently. For example, by putting in place effective measures to automatically detect illegal content and, with collaboration, either license or remove infringing content.

Online platforms need to take more responsibility for the content on their sites to prevent economic harm and create a level playing field in the digital marketplace for legal content.

We all hope that schools, universities, theatres, galleries and live music venues, etc. are able to fully reopen soon. Regardless, digital content will continue to play an increasingly important role in our lives.

Supporting creators and producers and the copyright protected content they make, in an increasingly digitalised world, will in turn support the UK’s economic recovery from the deepest recession it has experienced since records began. Not only that, but it will support our education sector and creative industries to once again thrive.

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