Making Knowledge Work

October 8, 2010

The Copyright Conundrum

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — virginiahenry @ 3:02 pm

The tortuous progress of ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) – amid criticism that the process isn’t open and transparent, and fears that the agreement could enable signatory states to police the internet in a way that’d make Draco blush – illustrates the challenges of copyright and IP in the wired world.

The Copyright Licensing Agency‘s open meeting last week at the lovely Royal Geographical Society wasn’t concerned with the daunting challenges so much as demonstrating the ‘international value chain’ provided by their licences. During the first session it was explained that CLA has reciprocal agreements with overseas Reproduction Rights Organisations (RROs), which help ensure publishers are paid for their work. Apparently in 2009 Britain was the largest exporter in the global publishing industry – shipping £1.2 billion worth of books. So, licensing agreements and anti-piracy measures seem pretty important.

A couple of the panellists weren’t entirely content with the strictures of the licences though. As licensees, Philip Ditchfield of Glaxo SmithKline and Vanessa Marsland from Clifford Chance LLP explained that the lack of a truly multinational licence, and tight constraints such as “for internal use only” meant that global organisations could have a team member in one country able to read a publication while their colleague in another location was unable to, and a lawyer couldn’t share material with their own client. And as for the administration and reporting duties involved in holding licences – a nightmare!

The CLA team said they were working hard to get as many countries as possible to establish RROs and hoped, ultimately, to make life easier for licensees. Meantime, they’d had the bright idea of establishing new website content licences. This announcement prompted questions from the audience such as “why, when there are already Creative Commons licences and pay walls in place?” and comments, (most succinctly from Charles Oppenheim) such as “don’t waste your time on such a minor issue”.

The CLA did see a need for a new Schools Licence, though, and say it’s already a hit with teachers.

The most interesting contributor to the after-tea debate – ambitiously named “Intellectual Property Will Save The British Economy” – was Dr Makeen F Makeen from SOAS. He said there were a number of countries with strong economies where English was spoken – such as Egypt and UAE – and where a market for Britain’s creative output existed, but we weren’t bothering to sell into them. He also listed a number of threats to the development of our creative/cultural exports. These included the output of newcomers to the creative industry such as China, Brazil, India and Dubai, our own slow reaction to the implications of new technology, and a belief held by users that they have the right of free access to copyright works!

I think the most inspiring aspect of the afternoon was the pre-meeting private viewing of selected RGA treasures: memorabilia of pre-digital age heroes who threw themselves out into the world wearing a trusty pith helmet ,or a pair of hobnail boots. While admiring Shackleton’s Burberry helmet I was told there are plans to reproduce his South Pole Gazette online, but the delicately-bound typed and hand drawn pages present a challenge. That’ll probably be a stroll in Hyde Park by comparison with cracking the copyright conundrum!

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