Monday, 27 February 2012

LIKE 33 - Copyright, Hargreaves & Digital Economy Act

Copyright, Hargreaves & Digital Economy Act - Intellectual Property fit for the digital age

This was the question posed by Prof Charles Oppenheim at Like33 on Thursday 23rd February. I rarely have any dealings with copyright rules and regulations and only briefly covered it in my library Masters several years ago so know relatively little about them. The only time it crosses my path is when I am occasionally asked by my boss to track something down and ask permission to use it hence I thought it time to brush up my knowledge.

LIKE33 was chaired by James Andrews who introduced the guest speaker. Prof Charles Oppenheim opened up his lecture by talking about orphan works and the problems people who wish to digitise them face in tracking down the copyright owners. Quite often they will not be digitised either because the authors cannot be tracked or because it is too costly and time consuming to do so. This leaves huge gaps in what is being digitised and is a real risk for the national heritage and digitisation industries.

The Professor informed us that there was a digital directive put forward by the EU which tried to address this issue and to relax some of the very restrictive rules. He also informed us that Google founders had told David Cameron that they would never have started their digitisation project in the UK due to its comparable restrictiveness to the US. Although, as the linked article states, there are some indications that this would not have occurred anyway due to lack of funding.

The Hargreaves Report

The Hargreaves Report commissioned by David Cameron and chaired by Ian Hargreaves, the professor of digital economy at Cardiff University, suggests that current copyright rules and regulations are put in place by lobbying rather than hard evidence, for example, the film and music industry lobby hard to prevent people freely downloading their material claiming it hurts their profits despite evidence that this is not the case. It also suggests many exemptions, for example connecting works (works which have been integrated to create a new piece) should be exempt from copyright law if they are being used for non-commercial purposes.It states that copyright contractual agreements cannot override the law and it suggests that a small fee is charged for every orphan work digitised so that if the owner were to turn up, there would be some compensation. Hargreaves recommends many current restrictions are lifted, for example on digital items for distance learning and for general educational uses. Some industries, like Elsevier, are not happy about this at all.

Charles predicted that many of the recommendations made by Ian Hargreaves, for example, regulating UK copyright collection societies, won't be implemented although the societies themselves may be a little more careful in future and not start petty cases. Another prediction was that the goverment would backtrack on the report due to intensive lobbying and that it would not be evidence based, like the report suggests it should be.

So altogether not very positive.

The Digital Economy Act

The Digital Economy Act was hastily passed in 2010 by the Labour Party, although much of it has not been fully implemented yet. There is controversy over it because it operates on a three strikes and you're out principle, although it is currently frozen because penalties cannot be agreed upon. You might think this is all very well if someone is doing something illegal (although I can't see it working in action as internet service providers are going to be unwilling to lose money over this - they are already bringing forward a judicial review of the Act) however because of its loose wording it also seems to apply to anyone who provides wi-fi including libraries and internet cafes. There are obvious problems to this, not least the slight infringement to civil liberties.

Having known very little about the Digital Economy Act and the Hargreaves Report thanks to LIKE and Prof Charles Oppenheim I feel am a bit more up to date. It all still looks very complicated and I haven't fully made up up my mind regarding what I agree or disagree should happen - although for that matter it seems like the politicians haven't either as it doesn't seem like any of the arguments raised will be dealt with soon!

One to watch out for.

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