Copyright Licensing in the Digital Environment

The digital environment is facilitating copyright licensing by different means, including by helping to rapidly locate and identify licensors and licensees, providing virtual platforms for exchange and automating contracts, payments, and the delivery of goods and services.

In this regard, digital technology is greatly impacting on the territorial and temporal framework for copyright licensing.  Moreover, a number of new licensing practices are emerging in the new technological environment.  

The proliferation of new licensing practices appears to reflect the development of collaborative creativity and a new, more dynamic position of the user in the network environment. Each user is now, thanks to readily available digital technologies and media hardware and software, a potential consumer, producer, creator and distributor of creative work. While licensing is finely tuned for the analog world, the digital environment has changed the way in which copyright content is marketed, distributed, delivered and consumed, and this has had significant consequences for the upstream and downstream processes of rights clearance. 

Examples of recently developed forms of copyright licensing include the Creative Commons (CC) system and Open Source Software (OSS), which rather than representing renunciation or abandonment of copyright are actually new ways of exercising the rights provided under copyright and a form of distribution that relies upon the copyright owner’s exclusive rights. Both CC and OSS are increasingly used for commercial purposes and more and more their use appears associated to more traditional, proprietary licenses as in software products which combine both proprietary and open source code in the same technology or application. The use of OSS in mixed platforms can offer important benefits in product development, including high quality solutions, reduced costs and shortened development periods. But this mixed approach raises technical or licensing implications that require consideration. It is necessary to examine the compatibility between traditional copyright licenses and newer forms of licensing in order to identify potential problems.

There is therefore useful work to be done in terms of collecting the facts concerning different copyright licensing practices, describing and analyzing them in a manner useful to the member states.

It is important to note that WIPO has already developed relevant activities in this field, showcasing different licensing practices and their connection to a variety of business models. In 2005 WIPO published a Guide on the Licensing of Copyright and Related Rights, which was authored by a number of experts in different fields, and provided information on licensing practices involving a variety of sectors such as publishing, music, software and audiovisual.

Moreover, WIPO has launched a series of regional seminars on software and IP, with participation of Governments and the software industry and community in different regions of the world. The objective of this series of Seminars is to provide crucial information to demonstrate how software can be a powerful tool for economic development in such areas as the business models and licensing.  Each of these events has focused on different public interest concerns, such as disaster management systems in Asia or public education in Latin America. The last of this series of events was the WIPO-African Regional Seminar on Intellectual Property, Software, and E-Health: Trends, Issues, Prospects, which took place in Kigali, June 3 and 4, 2010.

On the other side, copyright licensing transactions, in particular when they are cross-border, are prone to dispute. The WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center provides cost and time efficient alternative dispute resolution options that are particularly appropriate in such licensing disputes.

The WIPO development agenda, and specially the Development Agenda Thematic Project on Intellectual Property and Competition provides a solid and balanced framework for undertaking focused activities in the field of copyright licensing.

The interface between the IP system and competition policy has attracted increasing attention in recent years, as IP rights have gained increasing importance in the knowledge economy, and a number of countries have established or enhanced the role of national authorities entrusted with competition policy.

As a matter of example, relevant issues at the intersection between the collective management system and competition law have been addressed in a meeting on Collective Management and the Role of Public Authorities organized in cooperation with the Colombian Copyright Office.

In this context, in order to raise awareness of member states and civil society concerning the broad landscape of copyright licensing, a Global Meeting on Emerging Copyright Licensing Modalities has taken place on November 4 and 5 2010, at the WIPO’ s headquarters in Geneva. Several participants at this event stressed the need to make it faster, easier, and simpler for those who want to use music for legal services to find out who owns what rights in music - and not just in the developed world, but throughout the world. As a reliable source of information on the different rights in different territories, an International Music Registry (IMR) would be instrumental for the development of a healthy and balanced digital market for creative content.