Frankfurt 2019 Rights Meeting Recap: Rights Selling Technologies

This year’s Rights Meeting at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October explored a series of exciting book markets and rights selling technologies, covering various aspects of the Chinese book market, the Czech and Slovak markets, and digital tools such as blockchain. The second half of the meeting focused on some emerging technologies that are becoming increasingly important for buying and selling international and digital rights abroad. Below we provide an overview of the presentations on these technologies and wrap up our three-part blog series on the Frankfurt Rights Meeting.

Rights selling technologies have gained considerable attention in recent years, particularly those that facilitate establishing contacts across the globe and those that enable publishers to quickly finalize contractual agreements across territories when publishers or agents are unable to meet face-to-face. While these are gaining more users and ground in certain markets, they have yet to be universally embraced. Some of the obstacles to large-scale adoption include lack of awareness, additional costs, and perceived difficulty in learning how to use new technologies and incorporate them into existing workflows. Perhaps in an effort to help publishers overcome some of these barriers to adoption, the Frankfurt Rights Meeting provided presentations on three of these rights selling technologies: rights trading platforms, e-signatures, and blockchain.

Jeremy Brinton of JB Consultancy in the UK provided an overview of four major rights trading platforms, IPR License, Nakiri, PubMatch, and Rightsdesk . For his study, he evaluated, among other things, the different kinds of services they provide, their benefits, and the challenges they can sometimes pose. All of these platforms provide secure online transactional marketplaces for buying and selling rights worldwide. Their primary goals and services include simplifying the rights selling process, improving discoverability, reducing time spent managing rights sales, and providing additional publicity and marketing for titles.  In order to do so, the platforms make it possible to share files and track submissions and data, automate rights transactions, customize rights portals for publishers and publisher associations, opt to use in-built default query and contract systems for translation rights, as well as generate proprietary rights catalogues within the platform that can be saved and used off-platform. The real-time messaging services provided by these platforms help create connections with editors and rights agents and other rights holders, facilitating the creation of networks among subscribing publishers.

According to Brinton, some of the benefits associated with having titles on such platforms are constant exposure and visibility, being part of an accessible rights database, automating rights sales for “low-value deals,” dedicated customer service and technical support, as well as speed-to-market for titles. Other advantages of using these platforms include their ability to develop new tools and services collaboratively with clients and the various tiered and tailored fee structures they provide. Brinton found that these platforms were primarily used by publishers interested in selling non-English translation rights. And, while more and more publishers and associations have started using these tools to reach a larger network of global rights buyers, Brinton suggested that their adoption by publishers is still relatively slow and not nearly enough to reach “disruption” levels yet.

Another digital rights selling technology covered at the meeting were e-signature tools as well as some aspects of their regulation at the international level. Peter Craddock and Valerijus Ostrovskis of DLA Piper provided an overview of e-signatures for rights sellers and the different considerations publishers should make when using e-signatures across devices and territories. The presenters explained that there are many different types of e-signatures, including kinds that are already part of our everyday lives, such as pin codes, captchas, scanned signatures, and one-time passwords. Further, there are also different categories of e-signatures: simple electronic signatures (SES), advanced electronic signature (AES), and qualified electronic signature (QES). In a simple electronic signature, data in electronic form is attached to (or logically associated with) other electronic data and used by the signatory. As the name suggests, advanced electronic signatures are slightly more complex and require four conditions for acceptance: the signature must be uniquely linked to the signatory; be capable of identifying the signatory; be created using electronic signature creation data that the signatory can, with a high level of confidence, use under their sole control, and; finally, the signature must be linked to the data signed therewith in such a way that any subsequent change in the data is detectable. For an additional layer of security, a qualified electronic signature is an AES created by a qualified electronic signature creation device and is based on a qualified certificate for electronic signatures.

There are also different and specific uses and identifiers associated with the different e-signature categories used in various countries and regions. Craddock and Ostrovskis focused their discussion on e-signature legal frameworks and trends in the European Union and in the United States of America. In the EU, the “eIDAS” Regulation is the main piece of legislation on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions. In this framework, electronic signatures cannot be denied legal effect and admissibility for being an electronic form or for failing to meet the QES requirements. Further, within this framework QES has the equivalent legal effect of a handwritten signature and has to be recognized in all EU member states. In contrast, e-signature users in the US often rely on a third-party electronic signing process as well as biometrics (e.g., Apple Pay) as an attribution method. Another form of e-signature highlighted in the presentation was blockchain and smart contracts, both of which are protected in US Federal Law and Uniform State Law (47 states), which recognize, enable, and validate the use and enforceability of both electronic records and signatures created, secured or retained by utilizing a blockchain platform and smart contracts.

According to Craddock and Ostrovskis, the advantages to using e-signatures are numerous regardless of the type or territory in which one is used. They are legally binding, convenient and transparent, are especially helpful in an increasingly global and paperless economy, and, if used correctly, the e-signature process can help provide greater guarantees that the final signed document is accurate and reflects the actual agreement.

Despite these advantages, for many people assessing the feasibility of adopting e-signature tools, there remains the question of how one can really know who the person is on the other side of the digital signature process. The short answer is trust. However, trust is not always possible when dealing with new businesses across the globe.  A possible solution to the problem of trust in a globalized and digitized business environment is blockchain. This relatively new technology has garnered considerable attention in the publishing world over the last two years, particularly for its potential to provide solutions for licensing and buying and selling rights across international territories. The role of blockchain in rights management and sales was the final focus of the Rights Meeting, with Sebastian Posth, CEO of Posth Werk BV presenting on the possible purposes of blockchain use in the future. In simplest terms, Blockchain is a “distributed ledger” technology that is maintained by the consensus of an open, decentralized network of parties. Posth explained that blockchain can be particularly useful for publishers because it can provide an infrastructure for generating and managing content information in a decentralized and distributed environment that can’t be controlled or censored. The decentralized nature of this technology is what helps it establish trust and finality for dealing with relative strangers—or what Posth referred to as “trustless trust.” Posth suggested that the most useful adoptions of blockchain would be in situations where there is a small transaction value for a high number of transactions, such as, for example, digital subscription services, uses of stock images for social media, a secondary market for ebooks and resale, or for using songs for background on YouTube videos.

As Brinton warned about licensing platforms, these new digital rights selling tools are not a “silver bullet.” While younger generations may be more likely to embrace this technology, adoption is currently fairly slow. And, despite the usefulness of these tools, selling rights remains a complex business. It will always be important for publishers to understand their rights and contracts before negotiating a deal, and for them to be aware of the territoriality of copyright, be able to identify the correct rights holders, do research on international markets they wish to enter, and, ultimately, establish trust-based relationships with international publishers and other rights buyers.

If you are interested in learning more about international rights and export markets, check out one of our many specialized market guides or browse the Livres Canada Books rights portal on IPR License to see how a rights trading platforms can work.

02/06/2020 | Book Fairs, Digital, Export