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Hargreaves review 'to bring in digital rights clearing house'

But drops fair use, apparently

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Strategic leaks from the ongoing review of the UK's copyright law suggest Ian Hargreaves' team will establish a new intermediary agency he hopes will speed up digital licensing.

The review was announced by PM David Cameron last October and surprised the Intellectual Property Office. Cameron said he wanted to reform UK IP laws to make them compatible with the needs of internet startups, saying that Google's founders had claimed the company could never have been founded in the UK. The original quote has never been found.

A new "clearing house" or digital exchange should be established, run by the rights industries, under the direction of a new IPcrat, the FT reports.

According to the newspaper, Hargreaves says in his report that "while the government should leave it to the industry to set up a digital rights exchange, it should appoint a digital tsar to oversee design and implementation and use its influence to bring companies into the fold".

But building a playground is one thing - filling it with people is another.

Submitting work to such an exchange would be voluntary, and a rights exchange that removed moral rights or weakened the rights-holder's commercial position would add little to what we already have.

The idea of a digital clearing house isn't new. Europe wants one, and it has been touted to solve the orphan works issue; photographers and visual artists regard a metadata database as an essential basis that permits cultural use while preserving creators' rights. We described an eBay-style nonprofit National Cultural Archive, here.

More leaks to the BBC's arts correspondent Will Gompertz last week also point to a central licensing body. Lobbying pressure from major cultural institutions such as the British Library led to an orphan works clause, clause 43, in the Digital Economy Act. This was later removed after concerns that it would weaken the ability of independents, visual artists and photographers to go to market or protect their work.

Hargreaves is due to announce the proposals on Wednesday.

Critics have drawn attention to close ties between Google and government, and questioned whether it is worth weakening successful sectors of the economy to give a leg-up to the opportunistic and hopeless.

But the original raison d'etre of the review, finding ways to allow the legitimate use of work without the copyright-holder's permission, have been jettisoned.

According to leaks to the Sunday Telegraph, US "fair use" law emerged by case precedent, and was too complicated to replicate in the UK legal system. It would have led to a blizzard of lawsuits, as it has in the litigation-happy United States.

But there's another reason. It was never practical, suggests notes photographer Jeremy Nicholl:

"For those unfamiliar with the concept, fair use is a term that in the looking-glass world of Freetardia means the exact opposite of what it means on planet Earth. Down here fair use means what it says: somebody pays a reasonable fee for something and enjoys usage commensurate with the fee," he writes.

"It doesn't much matter what that something is – a photograph, a restaurant meal or even some Class A drugs: the basic rules of the game are the same, and are constrained by what the seller and buyer agree are reasonable... But on Freetardia fair use means anyone can take an artist's product without paying or even informing the artist, and do with it what they will. Health and Safety Advisory: freetards only apply this logic to intellectual property.

"Even the most diehard freetards caution against leaving restaurants without paying, or heisting the Merc belonging to the drug dealer at the end of your road."

We'll soon find out. ®

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