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Andy Burnham: IP challenge demands an international response

Nick | 25 Feb 2009, 14:45

UK Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, whose Deparment for Culture, Media and Sport is the founding partner of c&binet, has told the Guardian that he believes that the key challenge for the creative economy is to develop an international framework to strengthen IP rights in the digital age.  Mark Sweney reports:

“The ultimate aim of the plan, Burnham told MediaGuardian.co.uk, would be to develop a consensus with other governments that would make the UK’s own initiatives to combat internet piracy more likely to succeed. Burnham said the government is seeking a 70% to 80% reduction in illegal downloads with its plans in the UK.

“I am working towards an international memorandum of understanding, it is time for much more serious dialogue with European and US partners. No solely national solution will work. It can only be durable with international consensus,“ he added.

“Burnham is hoping that if all parties can be galvanised into action, there is a chance that the “Davos for creative businesses” world conference that will be held in Hertfordshire in late October could be used as the stage for developing an agreement on tackling illegal downloading.“

Leibovitz uses copyright as collateral

Nick | 25 Feb 2009, 11:01

The Guardian reports that photographer Annie Leibovitz has borrowed money from specilist lender Art Capital, using the probable future income streams from the copyright on her work photography as collateral:

“Records show she secured the loan partly against property, but also by putting up as collateral the copyright, negatives and contract rights to every photograph she has ever taken or will take in future until the loans are paid off.“

Joint-owner of Art Capital, Ian Peck says:

“We are one of the few – if not the only – lender who could have valued her body of work; that’s a fairly esoteric thing to value.“

The loan was based not only on an appraisal of both the value of her work but also a set of assumptions about the future of the copyright system and shows that copyright protection and enforcement are not concerns only for major corporations, but also for the individual artist.

Micropayments: new business model or old?

Nick | 24 Feb 2009, 17:10

US think tank The Aspen Institute secured the front cover of Time magazine recently, thanks to a presentation from its CEO, Walter Isaacson, entitled “A Bold, Old Idea for Saving Journalism.“

In the speech, Isaacson wrestled with the issue that is central to the future of the publishing industry - should you give your content away for free or hide it behind a firewall and charge for it?

Although he argues that the aggregators, search engines and ISPs have profited disproporionately from selling advertising and charging the consumer for access to publishers’ content, Jeff Jarvis counters:

“As for Google: its detractors have the value proposition exactly backwards. Google shouldn’t be paying newspapers - newspapers should be grateful Google doesn’t charge them for the value it shares in links and audience. Google is their free newsstand.“

The same argument could be made for Drudge or Digg.  The validity of Jarvis’ argument is surely demonstrated by the emphasis that publishers place on optimising their content for search engines, providing their writers with lists of key words most likely to drive traffic.

Isaacson believes that the answer is not to be found in carving up the advertising pie a different way, but in identifying a practical system for charging consumers via micro-payments:

“If I ran the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or Los Angeles Times, I would take the lead by creating my own digital coin purse or micropayment E-Z Pass and try to get other content creators to use it as well. Or I would work with a company such as Amazon, Pay Pal, Google, Apple, or Microsoft to partner in creating one. I would at the same time also start accepting the best of the existing micropayment systems. Just as stores take multiple credit cards, sites should accept multiple micropayment systems.“

And his comments will have chimed with many in the industry, as Jemima Kiss writes for the Guardian:

“When advertising slumps, subscription schemes such as those offered by the Wall Street Journal Online and the Financial Times begin to look newly attractive. Although based largely on expense account fees for business-critical information, the Journal’s success is being studied by colleagues at its News Corp siblings, the Times and Sunday Times. Although they remain tight-lipped on plans, they are at least discussing the option of subscription for a global audience of nearly 23 million unique users a month.“

Studies like this one suggest that the consumer will always seek out “blockbuster” creative content with high-production values, unique creative input and significant profile. In these cases, content owners can continue to charge for content, so long as they can protect their IP and develop effective distribution channels that meet consumer need. 

The trouble for newspapers is that unlike music labels and film studios, even the conglomerates no longer have any kind of monopoly on good writing, thanks the proliferation of high-qualty blogs and other forms of self-publishing.

What newspapers have is a stable of good content procucers, high-end content management systems (in some cases) and brands that guarantee a community of readers. As soon as micro-payments are introduced, the newspaper’s Google ranking drops, the readers defect and the value of the brand is diminished. Meanwhile individuals like Perez Hilton or Stephen Fry have become media brands that dwarf the profile of many newspapers that have failed to carry their readers with them online.

Even if micro-payments could be made practical for print content, where would you draw the line?

Today, every organisation is a media brand. Why would a consumer pay 2 cents to read the Time article about Isaacson’s ideas, when they can read them on the Aspen Institute website for free?

Distributor ‘gamble’ on Slumdog pays off

Nick | 23 Feb 2009, 21:47

When Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire swept the board the Oscars last night, not many were surprised. However, in many ways it might have also been a somewhat unlikely contender.

How Slumdog nearly ended up being distributed direct to DVD is one of this awards season’s most told anecdotes, but as Variety journalists Pamela McClintock and Ali Jaafar note: “Slumdog Millionaire is the ultimate independent film, proving a bonaza for foreign distributors gambled on the project even when [its] domestic release was in doubt.”

Produced for $15 million, box office watchers now believe Slumdog is heading for an international take of $200 million. An executive at Fox Searchlight, which stepped in as a distributor when Warner Independent Pictures pulled out, comments: ”These films are important because they defy conventional wisdom and show that someone can do something completely original and succeed, when so much of the movie industry has been commoditized.”

The commercial challenges aside, Marc Graser notes: “The awards are [also] significant because Slumdog’s dominance this year points to the increasing globalization of Hollywood – and the Oscars. Pic’s director, Danny Boyle, screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, and producer Christian Colson hail from Britain, it has a mostly Indian cast and it found its first success in America. One-third of it is in Hindi and thus makes the first claim for a foreign-language film to take the best pic prize.”

Slumdog’s path to success, via rave reviews from early screenings at the Toronto Film Festival, demonstrates how difficult it can be for investors in the creative industries to evaluate risk. It also highlights the importance of industry networks and word-of-mouth in making sure the right projects get the attention and investment they merit, wherever they are in the world.

- UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown commented this morning on British Oscar success:

“I am incredibly proud of the Oscar success of Slumdog Millionaire and Kate Winslet, and I congratulate everybody who has contributed to the success… Britain is showing it has the talent to lead the world. I think we should be very proud of what are great British successes. It shows that Britain is leading the world not just in film but fashion, music and design - and long may that be the case - as a result of the great talent that we have,” he said.

UK games industry calls for level playing industry on tax to prevent Canadian brain drain

Nick | 20 Feb 2009, 14:36

The UK video games industry has been speaking out about its ‘brain drain’ crisis. According to industry body Tiga the UK’s best developers are being lured to Canada by “mammoth” tax breaks and incentives and is calling on UK Government to act quickly to protect domestic industry.

Estimated to be worth over $20 billion, the global gaming industry makes a significant contribution to the economy. According to ELSPA, the UK had a £4 billion slice of this last year – hence strong feeling in the UK industry to retain home grown talent.

As Tiga CEO, Richard Wilson comments, “With a tax break of this kind in place [20% for games production], an additional £220 million would be invested [in the UK], potentially creating a further 1,600 high quality jobs. This measure would cost HM Treasury – a fraction of the recent £100 billion taxpayer bailout of the UK banking system.”

Similar debates have taken place across the creative economy, in particular in international film production. The issue is the result of one the key characteristics of the creative industries – that they are relatively footloose. In the main, they rely on people with specialist skills and knowledge, rather than capital infrastructure. So, critical to helping those industries flourish is ensuring that investment is made in developing those skills and retaining talent.

New Zealand will bring landmark copyright protection law in to effect by March

Nick | 17 Feb 2009, 10:25

A new law that will require ISPs to develop a code to deal with alleged repeat copyright infringers is expected to come in to effect by February 28th, 2009. Section 92A of the Copyright Act will result in repeat offenders ultimately being disconnected by their ISP.

The issue - dubbed the “Guilt Upon Accusation” law - has already resulted in fierce lobbying from both the copyright industries and the internet service providers and has now led to an international social media protest, organised by New Zealand group Creative Freedom NZ.

The New Zealand Herald writes:

“The Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) Director, Anthony Healey has labelled criticism of the looming legislation as mischievous, saying accusations of the new legislation are “...a continued attack on our songwriters whose ability to make a living from their music has already been compromised by widespread illegal file sharing on the internet by those who believe it everything should be free and by the internet companies that profit from it.“

The controversy highlights the legal and practical complexities presented by copyright enforcement in the digital age and the scarcity of precedents which successfully strike the right balance between the interests of producers, distributors and consumers.

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