After what must have been a very intense 8 months, 'Copyright Works - Streamlining Copyright for the Digital Age' by Richard Hooper and Ros Lynch has been published (I will call it the Hooper report). Commissioned by the government, this independent report is ambitious in scope, bringing into one document the thoughts and experience of a variety of creative industry sectors, all with their own particular drum to bang.
The main points relating to the picture industry will be listed at the end, and if you are acquainted with all the various strands of thought which have informed the report, go straight there. Here's the background for everyone else....
The big idea at the start was to look into the setting up of a digital content exchange. For many of us, the idea was vague. What exactly is a digital content exchange and whoever would be in charge of setting it up? In the course of discussions it became clear that the picture industry already operates digital content exchanges in the form of image libraries. Now there's a concept we understand - a user goes to a place online, asks for content, finds out what rights they can buy, pays the money, downloads the image. Easy in our industry, we've been doing it for years. So what's the need for change?
Licensing rights can be more complex in other industries like music and audio visual where multiple rights may exist in a work, and several, sometime overlapping, collecting societies are responsible for handling rights. For the user it's a dogs dinner, and there are attempts to streamline some of those databases into something as near as possible to a one stop shop for people who want to licence content.
The problem in the picture industry is a little different, as the Hooper report recognises. We have user friendly access for people who want to buy images, but there is a real problem with image identification. Images that escape from databases are mostly floating in the websphere without metadata, without an identification label, and with very limited means of finding rightsholders. They easily become orphaned, and metadata is almost routinely stripped from images when they are uploaded to the internet by anything other than the most professional image library software systems. This affects anyone who takes pictures, the amateur as much as the pro. If the concept of copyright is to be retained - and the Hoooper report recognises the importance of this - there must be an effective way to label all images so that the information has a chance of sticking to the image.
For the general image user, things are just as frustrating. If you find an image on the internet you want to use - whether for commercial use, for education, for a powerpoint - you will have a hard time locating the rightsholder. You can use image recognition - Tineye and the Google's search by image - but what you often get are pages of results showing where images have been used, passed from site to site without a clear licence. How then to find the legal place to licence or use an image?
At the IPTC conference at CEPIC in London this year (see my last blog), we raised these issues. The position I took, in my paper 'Orphan Works and Image Licensing' for the ARROW Plus project for CEPIC was that to be sure of identifying the source of an image you need a verifiable identifier embedded in the image so that rights information can be resolved (by a url, or by a registry), and some kind of visual icon to tell you that such information exists. Visual recognition can help identify uses of the image, and digital fingerprinting can embed an resolvable identifier into the pixel structure which is harder to remove than data embedded in XMP fields. (see presentation Avoiding Orphans)
Although image libraries have identifiers for images (picture numbers) which are unique to their organisation, what's missing is global uniqueness, which can be delivered by properly accredited registries. Other industries are ahead of us there, books have ISBN numbers and the music and AV industries have their own standard identifiers.
It's often assumed that if there is a standard numbering system, everyone has to change the way they work, renumber their images, change their database. This would cause chaos and confusion and put hard pressed businesses out of business. But there has been general recognition by people working on identifiers and registries that there is no value in making people change the way they work. The value we can add for the future is in linking what people are doing, and translating their efforts so that data becomes interoperable and useful in a wider sphere.
Verifiable globally unique data can be added to images by a registry system. The IPTC schema has already make provision for registry data to sit alongside a picture library or photographers own numbering reference.
PLUS has thought all this through. I won't go into how it works here, except to say that like all workflow developments in the future, it will be down to the software people to automate workflows to make it easy for users. The thinking behind the PLUS schema is sound, and anyone who is serious about the future of the imaging business is advised to engage with the ideas they have developed.
Other problems for images? How can they be connected with other media so that people can license across media types. CEPIC is part of a proposed European project the RDI or Rights Data Integration project, which is being led by the Linked Content Coalition (LCC) and includes partners from various media sectors (It is expected that the project will be approved by the EU). The broad ideas is to set up a technical framework for allowing different rights schemas to talk to each other. Again, this is not a matter of trying to squeeze all sectors into the same way of working, but rather a way of setting up a mapping process which can be automated, so that systems can speak to each other with a defined vocabulary at the core. Its a little like Esperanto, which was designed to be a bridge between languages, to facilitate communication (and peace) between nations. As with language translation, we know that the data mapping process can never be perfect, just good enough. CEPIC will be a content exchange partner, testing the concept of a European Content Exchange for visual works.
The Hooper Report reflects the fact that those involved have listened carefully to our industry (as well as to all the others) and has not fallen into the trap of treating all sectors in the same way. The fascinating part of it is that the work leading up to the report has actually facilitated cross sector engagement and made people in the creative industries think ahead.
So here are the main points relevant to the image industry:
The report recognises the problem of metadata stripping (P15 of the report). This is significant. There a call for image using organisations to develop a voluntary code of practice committing not to strip metadata from images and not to use images from which metadata has been stripped. Further, that software developers work with the image industry to find a solution enabling images to retain metadata when posted to the web. (This is technically not difficult. The will of the software purchasers is a key element in shifting software into the modern age.) And the report recommends that the government work with our industry as far as practicable to help find a solution to metadata stripping.
We can all be rightly sceptical of voluntary codes of conduct, but this is very good news. A great boost for the IPTC and the EMM (embedded metadata manifesto)!
Social networking sites
The report mentions social networking sites like YouTube and FlickR (P73)and the need for capturing data as content enters these systems. The IPTC has been investigating metadata stripping in social networking sites, and we see this as a significant barrier to copyright protection. The fact that the Hooper report recognises the importance of copyright for pros and non pros alike is very welcome indeed.
Linked Content Coalition (LCC)
The work of the LCC is explicitly supported by the report. This is good for data interoperability, and for the proposed RDI European project in which CEPIC will play a part.
The Digital Copyright Hub
The hub is conceived not only as a DCE (Digital Content Exchange) although it will function as such in some areas. Rather it is a way of linking different exchanges and registries. Bringing together the best of technology already being developed, the Hub will be a not for profit entity, drawing on the experience of the Copyright Clearance Centre in the US, the Linked Content Coalition in the UK, and the Technology Strategy Board's recent work on a Digital Licensing Framework (DLF)- a project in which National Maritime Museum, Tate Images, V& A and Pearson have played a part.
The Hub, it would seem, could be all things to all people - a linking mechanism for DCE's (read image libraries in our sector) and marketplace for photographers, a place where rights can be queried across media types, an orphan works registry, and part of a diligent search. The problems are more likely to lie in governance and technology creep (technology on the ground not keeping up with opportunities) than in the technology itself.
This is the opportunity that the Hooper report has given the creative industries in the UK - to be at the forefront of linking technologies and user friendly rights exchange hubs. The detail to be grappled with is staggering, but someone had to get outside the media silos and understand the opportunities technology is offering, and that effort could present a turning point for creative industries.
Perhaps we are all a little light headed in the UK at the moment (those of us who haven't escaped abroad). After Danny Boyle planted a flag for creativity and technology at the Olympics opening we all felt a stirring of pride for what we can do. After Wiggins and our various gold medals our feet have perhaps left the ground. But it's hard not to get excited when a government commissioned report backs the out-front ideas we have been playing with over the last few years. It's good to be heard, and now the hard work begins.
Ros Lynch will have her work cut out for her in the first year of spawning the industry funded Digital Hub. There will almost certainly be issues for smaller and poorer industries playing with the big boys. But for now we can be glad that Richard Hooper and Ros Lynch have so intelligently pulled together the ideas and aspirations of so many differing interests and come up with a roadmap for copyright protection and licensing activity which, in its outline, makes sense to so many people.
4 August 2012