Regular commenter Gillian Spraggs attended a meeting with representatives of the UK Intellectual Property Office last month, and discussed the Google Books settlement and related issues with them. Here is her summary of the meeting:
- From the point of view of IPO and the government, the GBS model of digital publishing is one that is ‘in principle worth looking at’.
- ‘Improving access to digital content’ is perceived as immensely important, and there is held to be a ‘logjam’ in delivering this, which the mechanism of the GBS dislodges. (I challenged the existence of such a logjam in the meeting.)
- There is a perception that licensing works for use is currently ‘too complicated’.
- On the whole idea of the GBS and the way it is set up to operate: when they looked into it they found ‘nothing so offensive about it that we would unhesitatingly condemn it’.
We were told that our group was far more hostile towards and critical of the GBS than anyone else they had talked to.
She continues, after a discussion of the various UK authors and publishers groups and their positions on these issues, by summarizing some of the proposals of the Digital Economy Bill:
Provisions included in the Digital Economy Bill (Clause 42) would pave the way for this. They provide for the government to bring in regulations under a statutory instrument that would authorize ‘a licensing body’ – such as the ALCS – ‘to grant copyright licences … in respect of works in which copyright is not owned by the body or a person on whose behalf the body acts’. In other words, this would be a default opt-in arrangement, just like the Google Book Settlement. It would be possible to opt out only ‘in respect of rights excluded by notice given by the copyright owner in accordance with the regulations’ (whatever those may be). The reference to ‘rights’ implies that, just as with the Google Book Settlement, an author who wished to stay in control of his or her copyrights would have to give details of every single publication he or she had ever licensed. (The same would apply, if course, to literary estates.)
These provisions would permit the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (or a successor) to authorize the ALCS (or a similar company) to mass-license all British publications to Google (or another entity), except in those cases where the authors or other copyright-owners had gone to some trouble to prevent this.