In a series of articles we will be focusing on 2 sets of issues which are relevant to the business of multimedia. First, intellectual property rights and rights clearance. Second, structuring and financing new businesses.


Likely trends and issues
There are already a number of indicators of the likely trends and issues. One of the most significant of these is the draft report, "Intellectual Property and the National Information Infrastructure" which has already emerged from the US Information Infrastructure Task Force. Similar themes are also emerging from studies carried out elsewhere (e.g. in the Australian Copyright Convergence Group's August 1994 report, "Highways to change - Copyright in the New Communications Environment"). A Brussels Green Paper is expected in early 1995. Among other things, these works identify:-
  • the importance of providing proper intellectual property protection to encourage creators and rightsholders to provide content for the information age.
  • the need for consideration to be given to eliminating different treatment for different types of work under future copyright law (reflecting the fact that they will all be delivered in the same distribution medium).
  • the significance of licensing issues as the Information Superhighway develops: what new forms of licensing arrangements will develop? to what extent will licences be granted through collecting societies, rather than directly between rightsholders and users? will technological means provide the ultimate solution, providing infinitely flexible means of licensing tailored to the particular transaction, without the need for bureaucratic administration?
  • whether the existing rights to control e.g. reproduction, public performance and first distribution will need modification to reflect the way in which works will be used on the Information Superhighway. Will specific rights of control over transmission and access be introduced/extended?
  • the scope of "look and feel" protection as it applies to works in digital form which can easily be copied and modified.
  • to what extent the needs of access to information mean that rights of fair use/fair dealing ought to be extended in the electronic environment.
  • the scope of contributory infringement: for example, is a bulletin board "sysop", or broadcasting or cable network affiliate necessarily liable for the distribution of infringing material through its system?
  • the role of digital authentication systems and encryption.
From a European perspective, moral rights may be a particularly significant issue. Moral rights are often non waivable and non assignable, and remain with the author even when the economic copyright rights belong to his employer. They commonly include the right to object to modification of the work (to the extent that this modification is prejudicial to the author's honour or reputation). It is clear that in, for example, the film industry, moral rights have enabled rightsholders in some countries to prevent activities to which the copyright owners could not object elsewhere, such as colourisation of black and white films. There is considerable disparity between the level of moral rights protection afforded by different national laws in Europe. Potentially these discrepancies and the nature of moral rights themselves lead to significant complications in the exploitation of multimedia works.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.