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Trade raises concerns over licensing in digital bill
01.01.70 | Catherine Neilan
Writers and agents have raised concerns over the provisions on collective licensing contained in the Digital Economy Bill, which went through the House of Lords this week, and is now expected to be passed ahead of the election through a procedure known as "wash up".
There is growing concern over clause 43, which gives the secretary of state powers "for authorising a licensing body to grant copyright licences in respect of works in which copyright is not owned by the body or a person on whose behalf the body acts".
Writer Diana Kimpton, a founding member of new campaign group Action on Authors Rights, said the clause would "give the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) sweeping new powers". She said: "No organisation should be able to grant licences for work it neither owns nor represents. Compulsory licensing should be restricted to the very few cases where it’s the best way to handle a large number of small requests. It’s important that this doesn’t become the norm as it takes away individual authors’ rights to determine the price for their work."
Fellow member Gill Spraggs said the clause "has the potential to be used to impose a Google Books-style scheme in the UK" while Peter Straus, vice-chair of the Association of Authors Agents, said "everybody" was concerned about the potential implications for contracts.
But Benjamin King, head of policy and communications at the Publishers Association, said a PA-led coalition including the Society of Authors, the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers and the ALCS, had achieved some success in lobbying for changes, with checks and balances now in place. He said the clause was a "bit more nuanced now" but added that the bill "is not where we want it to be".
SoA general secretary Mark Le Fanu said the body had also lobbied on the bill through the Creators’ Rights Alliance, and would be reviewing the situation this week.
But agent Meg Davis said Action for Authors’ Rights was approaching government direct. "I don’t think the government is hearing from writers directly. There needs to be a strong contribution to the other lobbying that is going on," she said.