Friday, 20 May 2011

Copyright back on the political agenda

I have written in the past about some of the currently contentious issues in intellectual property, such as orphan works and the use of metadata to preserve a creator's moral rights.

Recently there have been two calls for public input into the copyright process. One was a call for evidence by the Culture select committee, which has been put on hold for the moment, and the other was the Hargreaves Report.

Hargreaves had been touted as the 'Google Report' since it was suggested that one of its issues, changes to our copyright exceptions (called fair dealing) to match the American fair use model, had been somehow suggested to the Prime Minister by Google, by saying that our rights regime prevented the Googles of this world from starting here in the UK. Rory Cellan-Jones at the BBC put that very point to Google's Eric Schmidt, who admitted that getting a business underway in the USA was easier than in Europe but said he was "not aware" of Google saying this was a rights problem.

Elsewhere in Rory's BBC blog, and that of Arts colleague Will Gompertz there were postings on Hargreaves. What I recommend you do is read the comments, for the Battle of Waterloo will these days be won on the playing fields of blog comments. I have chipped in (and bit my tongue on several occasions) but ... within the severe size limits currently imposed by the BBC on such things ... the comments expose a lot of the obsessions and occasional ignorance of what is a very arcane area of law and very difficult for people to understand.

Apart from the fair use and orphan works bits in Hargreaves ... and a welcome call for format shifting and parody exceptions, one theme is of what I might dare call an improvement in fairness and openness in rights dealings. The Intellectual Property Office is urged to give examples of what you can and can't do, which would have some force of law, and the government is encouraged to make it more practical, and cost-effective, for small rights owners who have been infringed to gain redress.

One omission is that moral rights don't get a look-in. There will be areas of the creative industries, including the small corner where I shine my light, that will find that a serious flaw.

Oh, and the report (PDF here) also asks that it doesn't suffer the fate of some previous such reports and that the government acts on its recommendations. It looks as if copyright is back on the agenda.

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