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Ofcom proposes new Public Sector Publisher

Ofcom this week released a consultation asking for stakeholder responses to a proposal for a Public Service Provider (PSP) of online content.

It argues that there is a gap to be filled and that quality web 2.0 content with a public service element to it could be provided by a future PSP.

The proposed PSP would take the following form:

  • PSP would be a facilitator rather than a broadcaster so would contract out content to other providers. This would also include the setting up of P2P networks etc and not just provision of content. The report draws the analogy of the PSP as the Intel chip – it facilitates the work but is very much a ‘back room’ operator
  • Distribution of PSP content would be achieved via partnering with established organisations
  • Investing in content could be via a variety of methods such as commissioning, joint ventures or grant funding
  • Estimated funding requirement for the service would be between £50m to £100m per annum to be drawn from possible licence fee increase, tax revenues or revenues generated from spectrum sale. It could also be based on a tax on the turnover of UK licensed broadcasters
  • It is suggested that the intellectual property (IP) model would have to be different from the norm as since much of the content will be participative and open to modification by users
  • A licensing model is proposed which would be like the ‘open source’ software licensing system. This would have an IP owner stipulate at the outset what can and cannot be done with the content but he would not be able to reserve all rights
  • There is a suggestion that the PSP could be attached to an existing organisation but the preferred model seems to be of a stand-alone body

On the surface, there seem to be plenty of opportunities for collaborative working and actually getting revenue for providing content. However, the intellectual property (IP) regime that Ofcom favours moves away from the traditional model and it is uncertain that this guarantees the IP rights of those who contribute content. Furthermore, it is not clear from the consultation where the line will be drawn as to what is public sector content and what is not.

Incumbents who are developing content like that proposed in the consultation for commercial gain could find themselves pushed out of the market or forced to bid for PSP contracts to the detriment of their own brand.

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