Tuesday 8 March 2011

The future of copyright: WIPO's vision

Towards the end of February a media release, "WIPO Director General Addresses the Future of Copyright", gave us an insight into the thoughts of the United Nation's principal agency for fostering intellectual property (it shares this role to some extent with UNESCO) on the vision which it has for the future of a right which, many say, has no future.  According to the release,
"WIPO Director General Francis Gurry ... said that copyright needs to evolve to current technological realities or risk becoming irrelevant [we all agree about that -- but does it evolve to embrace more protection or more exceptions?]. Speaking at a conference hosted by Australia’s Faculty of Law of the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) on the future of copyright, Mr. Gurry said there is no “single magical answer” to the development of a successful policy response to the challenges facing copyright in the digital age, but a combination of “law, infrastructure, cultural change, institutional collaboration and better business models.” [that's a combination of more big concepts than most of us can contain with our little brains, since each of these pulls against forces that are equal and opposite. For example whatever can be achieved through 'institutional collaboration' can be undone by demands for competition and transparency].

Mr. Gurry said the central question facing the evolution of copyright policy is how to maintain a balance between availability of cultural works at affordable prices while assuring a dignified economic existence for creators and performers. Digital technology is having a radical impact on those balances. “Rather than resist it, we need to accept the inevitability of technological change and to seek an intelligent engagement with it,” he said. “There is, in any case, no other choice – either the copyright system adapts to the natural advantage that has evolved or it will perish.” [It's not an either/or scenario.  The copyright system can both adapt and perish, or as a result of its adapting it can end up still alive but not in any useful or meaningful sense for copyright owners]

The Director General said there are three main principles that should guide the development of a successful policy response. The first is “neutrality to technology and to the business models developed in response to technology.” He said the purpose of copyright is not to influence technological possibilities for creative expression or the business models built on those technological possibilities, nor to preserve business models established under obsolete technologies. “Its purpose is…to work with any and all technologies for the production and distribution of cultural works and to extract some value from the cultural exchanges made possible by those technologies to return to creators and performers and the business associates engaged by them to facilitate the cultural exchanges through the use of the technologies. [The idea that business models are not sacrosanct and that they are a means to an end, not an end in themselves, is correct and important -- but it is the nature of every institution to seek to preserve its functions and the mindset is difficult to break. It exists elsewhere in IP where employees of rights-granting offices have to be reminded sometimes that their office exists in order to serve rights owners, not vice versa] Copyright should be about promoting cultural dynamism, not preserving or promoting vested business interests.”

A second principle, he said is “comprehensiveness and coherence in the policy response.” Mr. Gurry recognized the limitation of law to provide a comprehensive answer and said that “infrastructure is as important a part of the solution as law.” In this respect, he said collective management societies “need to re-shape and to evolve“ as their present infrastructure is out-dated as “it represents a world of separate territories and a world where right-holders expressed themselves in different media, not the multi-jurisdictional world of the Internet or the convergence of expression in digital technology.”

“We need a global infrastructure that permits simple, global licensing, one that makes the task of licensing cultural works legally on the Internet as easy as it is to obtain such works there illegally,” he said. [This has much to commend it, and we already have the technology to achieve it. Or if we don't, perhaps we can just borrow it from Google ...]

In this respect, Mr. Gurry said “an international music registry -- a global repertoire database -- would be a very valuable and needed step in the direction of establishing the infrastructure for global licensing. And, secondly, in order to be successful, future global infrastructure must work with the existing collecting societies and not seek to replace them.”

The culture of the Internet also needs to be taken into consideration. Referring to the high rates of illegal downloading, Mr. Gurry said “In order to effect a change in attitude, I believe that we need to re-formulate the question that most people see or hear about copyright and the Internet. People do not respond to being called pirates…They would respond, I believe, to a challenge to sharing responsibility for cultural policy. We need to speak less in terms of piracy and more in terms of the threat to the financial viability of culture in the 21st Century, because it is this which is at risk if we do not have an effective, properly balanced copyright policy.” [Exceeding urban speed limits and taking dangerous drugs for recreational purposes share with downloading the fact that they are widely practised by people who know that they are illegal, who do them regardless of their legality and who do not regard themselves as being criminals.  What can failure to change attitudes in those cases teach us about downloading?]

The third guiding principle for a successful response to the digital challenge is the need for more simplicity in copyright. Mr. Gurry said “Copyright is complicated and complex, reflecting the successive waves of technological development in the media of creative expression from printing through to digital technology, and the business responses to those different media, “ warning “We risk losing our audience and public support if we cannot make understanding of the system more accessible.” [the same end can be achieved by more simplicity and better education; both should be seen as means to achieve an end, not the definition of the end itself].

1 comment:

John R walker said...

Canada's Social Science Research Council has realeased a long report on piracy.

On 'hearts and minds' programs it has this to say:

"Although education is generally presented as a long-term investment in counteracting these attitudes, the lack of evidence for their effectiveness is striking. There have, after all, been a lot of campaigns in the past decade—StrategyOne counted some 333 in developed countries alone as of 2009. It would be reasonable to expect some benchmarks and tentative conclusions. But such follow-up appears to be almost universally avoided."

And this on successful net business models:

"The factor common to successful low-cost models, our work suggests, is neither strong enforcement against pirates nor the creative use of digital distribution, but rather the presence of firms that actively compete on price and services for local customers."