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Report on the Copyright in Multimedia Conference


This conference, organised by Aslib in collaboration with the DTI, was held in the elegant surroundings of The Institute of Civil Engineers building in Westminster. Almost 100 people attended the event, about half of whom were lawyers. Despite some disruption on the first day due to the rail strike, the conference went well, and a number of important issues were raised. Twenty-three speakers over the two days addressed a number of issues, including the legislative framework, electronic publishing, rights clearance and protection methods.

The keynote address on the first day was given by Ian Taylor MP ( now minister for Science and Technology. The government feels it has a number of crucial roles to play in developing the information society:

He also stressed the need for a global regulatory framework which must both protect creators and encourage users. The need for a global solution and harmonisation of current copyright laws was a recurring theme in the presentations dealing with the legislative framework.

The Legislative Framework

Graham Jenkins from the DTI first described 'The UK Perspective'. The UK actually has one of the more up to date copyright laws (1988), and protection for online works is already included in this, but since the Internet is global, a global legislature is needed. As a starting point for this, harmonisation must first be achieved within the European Community (EC). The main difference between the UK and continental copyright laws, is that the continental laws give more emphasis on the author's personality rights and moral rights, while UK law protects the producers and publishers more. However, some harmonisation has already begun, for example, with the change in duration of copyright (from July l998, the term of copyright in the EC will extend the basic term from the author's life + 50 years to the author's life + 70 years). Jens Gaster from the EC then went on to describe the EC policy on copyright. In June 1994 the Bangemann report ( was presented. This stressed "that intellectual property protection must rise to the new challenges of globalisation and multimedia and must continue to have a high priority at both European and international levels". A green paper on "Copyright and neighbouring Rights in the Information society" is now being prepared, and is expected to be adopted within a few weeks. The basic legal framework comes from four directives concerning:

A fifth directive, to be completed in the near future, concerns the legal protection of databases, and this is considered to be the flagship directive covering multimedia. It will be more widespread than it first appears, encompassing not only traditional databases, but any collection of works.

Electronic Publishing and Multimedia

The section of the conference entitled The Challenges of the New Multimedia Industry was unfortunately reduced to one speaker on the day, Rowan Vevers from the BBC Rights Archive. She explained some of the copyright problems and issues facing the largest production house in Europe. As a major rights owner it is concerned with preventing unauthorised copying, modification and transmission of its works. With the increased use of digital networks, clarification is needed regarding the law on a number of points. For example, does broadcast cover digital as well as analogue broadcasts? Is a CD-ROM a film for copyright purposes? Some solutions to these problems included various monitoring techniques and the EC directives harmonising European law. In order to make compliance with copyright easier, the BBC is currently setting up a Rights Database, which will be able to provide full and centralised access to all the relevant information regarding rights ownership of work handled by the BBC.

The theme of the new multimedia industry was continued on the start of the second day with a number of papers on the economic importance of multimedia and the opportunities presented by electronic publishing. Fred Blakemore, Chair of the CBI Working Group on Databases, first looked at the economic importance of multimedia. He saw the main issues as:

Patrick Cangley from Reed Information Services Ltd spoke about the new opportunities that electronic publishing has opened up for their firm. They publish around thirty business directories, many of which have been available electronically for a number of years. They believe electronic publishing allows them to deliver not only their traditional products, but also products that can be easily customised, for example sub-sets of data, or combinations of existing directories. All the data is put on the CD, but the customer only has to pay for the data they wish to access, with access restricted via software and hardware dongles.

Another company making the most of electronic publishing is the Daily Telegraph who publish the Electronic DailyTelegraph over the Internet. Ben Rooney explained that there were a number of reasons why the company had launched this free electronic version. Firstly, this will reach a different group of readers than the traditional paper, something their advertisers will bear in mind, and secondly they see electronic publishing as the way forward, and this allows them to gain experience in the new marketplace. He pointed out a number of copyright problems they have had, which will have a bearing in a number of different situations. The main problem is obtaining copyright for a work, whether text or a photograph or other media, to be published in one form, eg in a printed paper, does not necessarily mean you have permission to reproduce it in another form, in this case the electronic version. This is an important point that should be born in mind whenever you are obtaining rights clearance, and highlights the need to be specific about your requirements.

However the legal framework evolves, protection of copyright will be a major issue for all creators and publishers, and a number of methods of protection were highlighted in the conference. It was clear however, that ultimately the best method will be education of the users to accept copyright as an important right that they must respect, since without adequate protection there will be little investment into new products.

Michael Rebeiro addressed the issues raised by Compton's Multimedia patent. This US patent was granted to Compton's New Media, who own Encyclopedia Britannica, in 1993. The patent was very wide ranging and covered a number of areas, particularly their entry and search paths, which allowed interrelation of text and graphics. In December of 1993 the patent was reviewed, and after appeals, was finally rejected in October 1994. Though Compton can still take the case to the Court of Appeal.

Computer programs are not normally patentable, and as part of the inquiry into Compton's patent arguments for and against using patents were sought. Those in favour of patents felt they would encourage investment by offering better protection, and innovation by requiring programmers to design around existing patents. Those against, however, felt it would not address the real problem of software pirating, that patents take too long to obtain, that software is seldom novel but builds on existing techniques, and that it would be possible to abuse the system by the use of blocking patents. It was generally felt that the patent system was not suitable for the protection of software, and that the copyright system, while not ideal, provides a better framework to work from.

Physical Protection

John Sharman, of C-Dilla Ltd, spoke about the benefits of encryption, and their particular system, C-Dilla. From a publishers point of view any type of encryption system must be easy to setup and operate, and should allow them to control who can access their information and what they can do with it. With the C-Dilla system, an encrypted file can only be read by a C-Dilla reader. The reader decrypts in real time, and can use standard third party programs as viewers. Licence information is held on the user's hard disk, and controls what files they will be able to access. The system is designed to control access to data in a number of ways, for a limited period of time, access to only parts of the data held on a CD, a limited number of accesses and so on.

A protection method for images was also demonstrated during the conference. Digital Fingerprinting, from High Water FBI, embeds a fingerprint in the image, which can only be read with the originators copy of the decoder. The fingerprint remains readable even if the image is copied, manipulated or changed to a different format. The image can be viewed anywhere as normal, but the fingerprint remains as proof of ownership. Versions are available for the Mac and PC.

An encryption method is also being developed by the COPICAT Esprit project. Edward Barrow, from the Copyright Licensing Agency, described his view and the COPICAT project. He felt that while lessons can be learnt from the practices applied to photocopying, a direct transfer of licences (such as the blanket licensing agreements held by Universities, colleges and schools) to multimedia products would not be possible. He felt on the whole, copyright for digital works will eventually be controlled at a much finer level, paying per copy, though with some site licensing for core products.

The COPICAT project is looking at providing copyright protection by encryption which requires a key for decryption. The key is specific to the material and to a particular machine, and the data cannot be viewed without it. Although it is obviously possibly to get round such an encryption scheme, it is intended to be used with relatively low cost material, so that it will be cheaper to use it legitimately than spend time cracking it. COPICAT, which is still under development, will run on a IBM PC compatible machine under Microsoft Windows.

Rights Clearance

Since the copyright laws can be very complex, it can be difficult to know what rights you need to obtain to use particular data in a certain way. Mark Sherwood-Edwards described some of the most important things to consider, and what you might expect from a licence. He demonstrated the complexity of copyright with the example of producing an interactive CD-ROM about Hollywood musical hits. Rights you may have to obtain to create this would include:

Since it can be very difficult to gain all these rights, it may well be best to use only your own work or go to a company that sells completely cleared material. Robert Minio, from PIRA, described an Esprit project, OASIS (Open Asset Storage and Interchange Support), which may help authors to find cleared material. OASIS aims to "stimulate the multimedia publishing industry by offering guidelines for systems and methods to manage, access and trade multimedia assets in a more effective and efficient manner". As part of the project a magazine, which is available online at: is regularly produced. This contains articles on legal issues, cases studies and details of an asset register (also online). The online register is a searchable database containing information on various archives, giving the type of material available, cost and copyright ownership.


Copyright and intellectual property rights is a complex area that is, and will continue to evolve as the multimedia industry itself evolves. In the days of the Information Superhighway works cannot adequately be protected without global legislation. While this is not yet in place, harmonisation, particularly within the European Community, is coming about. If users are to respect copyright, more education is necessary on what copyright exists, and it must be easier to obtain copyright clearance.

Sue Cunningham
Multimedia Support Officer
Computer Graphics Unit
University of Manchester
Oxford Rd, Manchester, M13 9PL

Tel: +44 61 275 6095