A view from the membership: Fair Remuneration in the Time of TDM

By Corky Balch, Independent Licensing Consultant and Executive Director, BAPLA

Copyright democratises innovation and creativity, and a robust copyright framework is vital to the digital, culture, media and sports sectors, which are huge economic drivers for the UK. Copyright is a cornerstone of society and our democracy, not only from a purely artistic perspective.

For example, take news photography. Without paying photographers for the content they create, they or their licensing companies can’t cover newsworthy events, and publishers wouldn’t be able to report on these events as vividly and effectively. There is a reason why “an image tells a thousand words” is a well-understood and established concept. Indeed, words, art, photos, illustrations and video, as well as other creative forms such as music and film, are essential to bring our stories to life, to engage with and accurately inform the wider public. Ensuring copyright is respected and its value understood is fundamental to creating creative content.

As the text and data mining (TDM) debate continues to pick up, broader principles are at stake concerning the possible erosion of the UK’s copyright framework. Mark Getty argued twenty years ago that Intellectual Property is the oil of the 21st Century. This notion underlines the importance of the context within which the UK government’s proposed blanket TDM exception will operate- namely, in an online world where all copyrighted ‘content’ is essentially data.

It should be noted that TDM copyright exceptions already exist for research purposes. But suppose you want to make money from Artificial Intelligence. In that case, there is an issue of fairness at play in regards to fairly renumerating data owners whose information and data are needed to build effective AI, especially since it isn’t free for creators and rights holders to develop, host and manage their content and data.

The counterargument might be pointed toward the cost and complexity of licensing copyright and data in the pursuit of innovation. Still, the truth is that the process can be cost-effective, provide accurate data provenance, and often relatively straightforward to manage.

We may reach a point where AI and synthetic imagery will replace some and complement other traditional forms of content production and distribution. Maintaining a robust copyright framework and establishing licensing protocols do not impede these technological advances. We should encourage an organic process rather than see seismic disruption to the UK’s copyright laws.

Effectively, the value and broader importance of copyright must not be lost.

We must protect copyright, value it, and ensure creators and rights holders can charge fair fees for their work and data.

This process should be acknowledged as a fundamental cost of business and paid for accordingly.  More expansive exceptions for any commercial uses are the thin end of the wedge, and nominal or gratis copyright licensing sets a bad precedent in troubling times. 


“A view from the membership” is a new editorial series from the British Copyright Council spotlighting key policy issues affecting the UK’s Copyright Regime. These articles are opinion-led and do not aim to represent the views of the wider membership. Please see our policy section for the British Copyright Council’s official policy statements and responses.