UK IPO report hints at snags in orphan works system


A report from the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO), designed to help the government improve the system for licensing orphan copyright works, has hinted that current recommendations may not offer the best way forward.

The report was commissioned to assist the government in evaluating options outlined in the Hargreaves Review, part of which seeks to enable the use of so-called orphan works where copyright exists but the owner can no longer be traced.

Released on July 2, the report examined the system for obtaining such works in Canada, Denmark, Hungary, India, and Japan as well as potential systems in the US and European Union.

The UK solution for licensing the works recommends that “an independent body will license the use, including verifying that potential licensees have carried out a diligent search to a sufficiently high standard".

But the report “consistently found” that in all cases, commercial licence fees tended to exceed non-commercial ones, a move which it said showed limitations of the current system.

According to Alastair Shaw, counsel at Hogan Lovells LLP in London, the findings could signal a shift away from the UK’s recommended system of a single body.

“As one would expect of a research report of this kind, it is presenting evidence and not forcefully proposing a particular approach,” he told WIPR.

“However, if its findings are taken fully on board by the IPO, we may see a shift away from the original government recommendation for licensing orphan works, from a single centralised licensing body for both commercial and non-commercial uses to a twin track system where use of orphan works by public institutions is licensed differently.

“The report seems to suggest this may more successfully achieve the government's overall aims."

Shaw added: “I can see the sense in implementing a twin track system. This is about giving the public and businesses access to otherwise inaccessible material while treating unidentified creators fairly. So it may be a mistake to have a one-size-fits-all approach.”

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