Regulations permitting Extended Collective Licensing (ECL) are set to become law on 1st October. ECL is seen as a solution to the problem of gaining copyright permission for mass digitization projects, through which, for example, a library hopes to digitise a significant collection in order to make it more readily available via a web site. A proportion of the collection is known to be still in copyright and the process of item by item rights clearance can be prohibitively expensive and time consuming. Rights owners are sometimes unresponsive.
The ECL solution enables collecting societies (such as the Copyright Licensing Agency) to apply to the Government to run an ECL scheme which enables them to licence the use of works, the copyright in which belongs to non members of the collecting society. The collecting society must have a well established presence in licensing the relevant type of copyright material in order to qualify.
The scheme, if approved, will enable the library to pay a licence fee to cover its digitisation of a large number of works. The rights owners affected would be able to benefit from fees distributed by the collecting society (just as the members benefit currently). They would also be able to take their works out of the scheme if they objected.
The licences which can be applied for under scheme seem to be of limited duration, which is likely to be problematic for libraries investing in large scale digitisation. It remains to be seen, also, how promptly collecting societies will come forward to take advantage of the new arrangements.