The Right Question to Ask about Copyright Reform

Old Art Old Copyright

The Irish Government Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation published a Consultation Paper about copyright and innovation on 22 February 2012.

Thanks to Lawrence Schoeb (@schoebeo) for sending me the link in response to a tweet I posed about tearing up copyright laws in the UK and starting again. The UK has been dancing around copyright reform ever since, well, ever since 1911 and then 1956 and then more recently in 2003. This doesn’t mention the many reports in to copyright reform from Gowers et al or a few dozen consequential minor amendments made over the years.

At first blush the Irish Consultation Paper doesn’t do much more than any of England’s recent efforts save for one question it poses. It is right at the end of the Paper and it is the most important question any government should ask in copyright reform. It is also the question that copyright owners and copyright users should be asking because it lifts the debate out of reshaping copyright law or thinking about ways to simplify it. It also distracts attention from the copyright-copyleft question and demands everyone stops for breath.

The Irish simply asked “What have we missed?” It’s there on page 126.

So, what have we missed? We have missed an opportunity to start again and fit copyright laws around this generation’s model – and not those from so far back in time that printing presses were novel – let alone digital media even a forethought! Even Tessa Jowell admitted on the BBC’s Media Show Podcast on 23 May 2012 that the then Governments changes to the media laws could not have and did not predict the speed at which ‘convergence’ would happen.

I’ve always maintained the view that copyright is complex because the ways in which it can be used and carved up and divided – is complex. It doesn’t need simplification or re-application, it needs rethinking from people smarter than me.

It needs the “Lawrences” of England to look at the law and suggest ideas to start a real debate about reinventing and reinvigorating it. Copyright doesn’t need an exchange (which without commoditised products and standard global protocols will not work – and we’re a long way from that) or another report to ‘shape it for the digital age’. It needs a crash cart.

Copyright needs help if it is to maintain any sense of relevance and at the very least offer some basic protections for rights created in a digital streaming and ever evolving age. But let’s not mistakenly think law can create a market or innovation – in this case it can’t. But for some protective help once works are created the law needs to get out of the way. What does that law look like?

Published by Brett

Brett is an experienced lawyer and business executive who focuses on commercial outcomes. He has worked across three sectors in England & Australia advising and leading initiatives in digital, media and technology

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