The Rights Data Integration (RDI) project aims to help content creators, owners and users go about the trade and use of intellectual property online by establishing an open standard of communication to "translate" the language of different content types.
"If you can't express your rights then how can anybody find them," Andrew Farrow, project co-ordinator for RDI, told Journalism.co.uk as the project began its 27-month pilot run.
"If you make it difficult for someone to find out the rights to something they'll pirate it. You make it easy then they've got far less excuse so why make it so difficult. Make it easy."
At present, copyrighted material – text, audio, video, images – are "siloed" by media type, explained Farrow. Communication within the silos can be good, but different media types have different ways of expressing ownership, authorship or other legal definitions, thereby complicating the process of being able to use the media legitimately.
The RDI hopes to simplify the process, based on a framework published in April by the Linked Content Coalition, a cross-media group of copyright experts.
"RDI is trying to demonstrate that it's possible to have a single place where a user can go and say 'I want to get the rights for this piece of text, this photograph, this bit of audiovisual' and it all comes back on the screen in one language that they understand," Farrow said.
He was also keen to stress that the RDI will not seek to change the way different industries function in regard to copyright or alternative expressions of rights like Creative Commons or media in the public domain, but rather to help individuals and organisations express their specific rights clearly and comprehensively.
"In its simplest form everybody ought to be able to express their rights," he said. "I ought to be able to say 'I'm Andrew Farrow and I have a right to this picture or this piece of music'.
"Conversely, if I want to find out information about the rights I should be able to easily go somewhere, interrogate a database, do a Google equivalent and it should tell me who owns the rights to something and where I go to obtain the information about those rights."
The RDI is testing the practical application of ideas behind the Copyright Hub, a web portal and collaborative forum for multimedia copyright that links to further information on licensing launched in July, which hopes to become a gateway for the licensing of multimedia rights in the future.
"Why make it so you have a career in copyright before you can get yourself involved in this?," he said. "Take the complicated bit out, let the computers manage the bits that the computers can manage and leave the bits that only people can manage, because it involves judgement, to the people. That's sort of where this is coming from, take some of the workflow out."
The project is part-funded by the European Commission's Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme and more than 20 industry partners involved in the daily management of copyrighted works.
Update: This article has been updated to show that RDI is testing the practical application of ideas behind the Copyright Hub, rather than the other way round.