Wednesday 10 November 2010

Copyright Law, Getting in the Way of Getting Copyrighted Works

“The biggest barriers that consumers face in accessing copyright works
are those created by copyright law.”  And with that profound statement, Consumers International begins its exploration into how copyright and consumers interact, investigating the barriers consumers face when attempting to find information.

The book is Access to Knowledge for Consumers: Reports of Campaigns and Research 2008-2010, and it presents the findings of two years of studies conducted by Consumers International.  These studies included surveys of consumers across a wide variety of countries, in-depth reviews of the effects of enacting new flexibilities in the copyright laws of Australia and Israel, and reports from six country groups involved in advocacy at the national level.

Consumer Survey

The global survey looked at potential barriers to access (to knowledge) in four different categories: Political, Economic, Social and Technological.  The book includes a full copy of the survey questions, highlights of notable qualitative answers and full charts of quantitative breakdowns.  Unfortunately, the charts are a bit hard to read sideways on a computer screen.  A surprising finding of the survey was that African consumers have the highest respect for copyright law.  A not-so-surprising finding was that consumers are confused about FOSS (free and open source software) and open licensing.

However, in combination with the other studies, Consumer International also found:

Part of the solution to the access barriers that consumers face is the wider use of open content, such as Open Educational Resources (OER) and free and open source software (FOSS). Our survey found that most consumers are aware of these alternatives, and ready to give them a try.

Based on this information, Consumers International has identified “the need for education of consumers on the unique features of FOSS and (though not covered in the phase one survey) other forms of free licensing such as Creative Commons.” 

Copyright Law Flexibilities

Australia’s 2006 amendments to its copyright act added flexibilities that made time-shifting and formatting-shifting legal.  Before the enactment of the amendments, arguments arose that the amendments would interfere with the markets for legal downloads and a threat to nearly every type of copyright protected work.  Results of the research conducted revealed that the content industry’s nightmares did not come true. 

[T]here was evidence to suggest that the amendments may have increased compliance with the law – not only by legalising the common and harmless consumer practices in question, but by improving some consumers’ respect for the fairness of copyright law in general.

When looking at Australian’s perspectives on whether and when it is ok to download copyrighted material, the book again presents a mix of quantitative data and qualitative information. Some of the justifications of those who feel it is ok to download to their heart’s content are rather amusing.

“Because when I see what happens, when people like Britney Spears
get paid what they do and act like they do. This means to me the
entertainment industry can kiss my arse!!!!!!!!”

Israel introduced fair use into its British-based copyright act in 2007.  To study the effects of the introduction of this provision, researchers compared case law before and after 2007.  The concept of fair use existed in Israeli copyright before 2007, but it was not codified.  Results of the analysis was slightly disappointing but hopeful.  Finding that fair use claims rarely succeeded and that courts were applying the doctrine in disparate ways, the researchers also expressed belief that this will change with the progression of more cases.

In conclusion, we find the law in Israel, while evolving to meet the
new digital creativity landscape, still lacks the balance which will reflect the social understanding of what should constitute a fair use and how copyright can foster creativity and innovation.

Country Group Reports

The book includes reports on national advocacy from Brazil, Cameroon, India, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia.  Each of these reports discusses activities done in the country to promote access to knowledge and the strengths and weaknesses of these activities.


Access to Knowledge for Consumers: Reports of Campaigns and Research 2008-2010 is a 336 page book, but it will not cause you back strain.  The entire book is available in pdf, released under a Creative Commons BY-SA license.


Afro Ng'ombe said...

There's more about the country reports at

Paul Ellis said...

“The biggest barriers that consumers face in accessing copyright works are those created by copyright law.”

Well, duh. No copyright law, no copyright work, which means no income for those who live on the earnings they generate from licensing their brains' original creative thought made flesh.

They're not all evil money-grubbing corporations and talentless over-promoted pop stars, you know. Most creative IP is made by amateurs and freelance professionals; those very same freelance professionals who have to put in the 10,000 hours necessary to become so skilled and experienced that they are able to produce the kind of fluent, high-level creative artefacts that constitute the worthwhile part of human cultural history.

Oh, and as for the so-called "new digital creativity landscape", give it a rest. WHAT "new digital creativity landscape"? Mashing-up other people's creative hard work? "Collaging", in other words?

True high-level creativity is as hard and demanding of skill and experience as it ever was. Media, whether traditional or new-fangled digital, are merely means to an end, with one exception: It's very doubtful whether most digital artefacts will last as long as the average photographic print, let alone the Mona Lisa or cave paintings.

There's something rather fitting in that. Transient digital creative artefacts that represent a transient, shallow society.

Anonymous said...

Gaining knowledge & insight isn't free. It takes time. Why should anyone benefit from creative knowledge and expect it to be free? Where are the financial incentives to create? I license my intellectual property to feed my kids, not for the love of it.