Making Knowledge Work

March 4, 2012

LIKE 33 Intellectual Property Rights – Fit for the Digital Age?

Filed under: copyright, IP — virginiahenry @ 5:45 pm

LIKE 33 was all about the state of UK Copyright law, the Hargreaves review of IP and the Digital Economy Act.  The purpose was to ask if our current legislation and conventions are fit for the 21st Century.

Professor Charles Oppenheim was our expert guide to the vested interests and challenges to logic that define the debates around the issues.
He started with the problem of orphan works.  They’re not necessarily orphans – sometimes their creators are still around, just untraceable. So permission to digitise can’t be sought of the copyright owner, and because of that digitisation projects of heritage works are in limbo.
There are two ways the problem could be addressed – there’s a European Draft Directive on the treatment of orphan works, and a recommendation by Prof Hargreaves to create an efficient digital copyright licensing system, where nothing is unusable because the rights owner cannot be found.  The European Commission focuses only on literary works, whereas Hargreaves’ interpretation is broader, encompassing other media.

There are other sensible proposals in Hargreaves’ “Digital Opportunity” including:

  • A central Digital Copyright Exchange so people who’re willing to licence can be put in touch with those who need licences.
  • The lifetime of unpublished works should be reduced to 70 years from their estimated date of creation.  (At present all kinds of interesting works and ancient manuscripts can’t be copied until after 2039)
  • Copying for private use should be allowed (it’s currently illegal to copy a CD you’ve bought to listen to in another format)
  • Non-commercial research should be exempted from copyright restraints – as should parody and text and data mining
  • There should be codes of conduct for collecting societies such as the PRS, Newspaper Licencing Agency, Copyright Licencing Agency (as Charles told us about this a small cheer went up from those who have to deal with the charmless representatives of these bodies!)

Loads of sensible proposals.  But the review was published about a year ago, and since then those with money or influence to lose, and their lobbyists, have been busy explaining to Government why the proposals aren’t so sensible.  Charles hoped that some of the proposed modernisation of our copyright law would get through.  But, even delayed and weakened by lobbying, it would be a difficult and controversial change to the law.

Charles described the Digital Economy Act as “that awful piece of legislation passed in dying days of the Labour government“. He’d watched a parliamentary debate on the issues and been appalled by the “staggering ignorance” on display.  Apparently one MP made a speech demonstrating his belief that ISP (Internet Service Provider) and IP (Internet Protocol) were the same thing.

Lots of well-informed and learned individuals and organisations have pointed out the flaws in the act.  Its draconian “3 strikes and your out” principle requires invasion of privacy, providers to become police (sending the 3 strikes written warnings) and withdrawal of service to “offenders” by the likes of BT and TalkTalk (who are so troubled they’ve gone to the High Court).  Ofcom are pretty lukewarm about the thing too.
Anywhere with WiFi – libraries, hospitals, schools, cafes, you name it – could inadvertently become “offenders” because of the inadequate wording of a stupid law.   Yet it may soon become an active law.

Our discussion inevitably moved on to encompass SOPA and ACTA but we’d already answered the question of whether our current legislation and conventions are fit for the 21st Century. Wish it could’ve been “yes”.  But unfortunately it looks like the latest Digital Opportunity to drag ourselves into this century will be missed.

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