I went to the All Party Internet Group/IPPR seminar on Digital Rights and Digital Heritage last night, which was very interesting. Here are some key points pulled out:
Derek Wyatt (chair of the All Party Internet Group) in his opening remarks made the interesting point that we “need to find a place to locate [the copyright debate] politically.” I think that’s an astute point – in America, the locus for the debate seemed to be the Washington lobbyists, particularly the entertainment company lobbyists. If the debate had started somewhere else, would it have been different? Wyatt suggested the political locus in the system for the debate should be the British Library – it “holds the goodness that is Britain” – but I’m not sure that’s practical.
John Enser, a copyright specialist from law firm Olswang, then gave a presentation on “why do we have copyright laws.” He used as his legal text, interestingly, article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (he deliberately chose this, he said, instead of the US Constitution, which is what the Web discussion on copyright tends to focus on).
1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.
As Enser pointed out, this does a pretty good job of expressing the “indelicate imbalance” of copyright law. Enser’s main point was that the digital sphere has exacerbated the imbalance, both by easing access to content, but also easing use of pro-rights protection in the form of DRM technology.
Enser highlighted the fact that the Articles 6 and 7 of the recent EU Copyright Directive (of 2001) do have provisions to ensure rightsholders don’t lock stuff away from people seeking fair use of content, but the only course of appeal for someone wanting to unlock something is to go straight to the Secretary of State. Clearly, the levers of bureaucracy need some work. Enser said that the question of fair use in the States has been left to the courts, and that in recent cases (Chamberlain v Skylink, Lexmark v Static Controls) they have actually come down on the side of fair use.
Sarah Faulder, chief executive of the Music Publishers Association, gave a frankly disappointing presentation of the kind we’ve become used to from rights-protectors: basically, if you throw away copyright, you throw away creativity. Interestingly, no-one had proposed throwing away copyright, only adapting it. Faulder also tried to claim that copyright protected the economies of developing nations, which seems a bit of a stretch.
David Dawson, ITC consultant for the museums, libraries and archives council highlighted the obvious problem of “fair use” when it came, for instance, to a community trying to build an archive of historical photographs. Dawson pointed out that these photos had very little commercial value but enormous social value, and while protecting the former we damage the latter. Dawson advocated the use of Creative Commons licences to avoid this distortion. He also gave an intriguing glimpse into something called the Knowledge Web – a king of web-within-a-web which would give access to knowledge assets from museums and public bodies in a way which would, for instance, help a nine-year-old do their homework. This is being done under the auspices of something called the Common Information Environment Group, which is investigating how Creative Commons and DRM could help deliver this environment.
Paula Le Dieu is heading up the Creative Archives project at the BBC, and gave some good insights. She drew an analogy with the BBC Computer launch of 1982, and the fact that although the BBC hadn’t been able to judge whether the BBC Computer had been a success at the time it was clear now that there was a direct line between the computer and the success of today’s UK games industry. She said the computer had been deliberately left open to hackers, and that this had created a thriving creative programming culture which had kickstarted the games sector here.
This, she said, was at the root of the Creative Archives project, which will encourage people to “rip, mix and share” BBC content – 600,000 hours of footage, 1.5 million items of video and film, and 5 million audio recordings. As has been noted before, the BBC will use a P2P network to distribute this (as Paula said, the consumers then become the distribution partners, and bandwidth costs are kept to a minimum). They’re clearly still thinking about the “licence” for this content; Paula said DRM wouldn’t be appropriate, as it discouraged people from “manipulating” the content being consumed, which is the entire point of the Archives. And they’re still struggling with rights clearances, although she said there would be some kind of Archives launch this year, probably in the area of natural history.
Steve Sharman, a digital rights consultant from IBM, made the point that this “imbalance” was created by the technology sector, and the tech sector would probably have to resolve it – but only if the creative industries and government came up with “simple” guidelines. As he said, increasing security always leads to increased complexity, which is a major turn-off for consumers. He also trumpeted open standards as the only way to avoid consumers being utterly confused, focusing on the 4CxCP and AACS-LA standards.
One thing that came out in the Q&A session was the fear that younger people might grow up with no understanding of copyright, and no sense of the rights and wrongs of “stealing” content, and that this trend might actually be exacerbated by the BBC’s Creative Archives project. Paula Le Dieu answered this well, I think, saying kids clearly understood these things in the offline world – that they can walk down the street and see a record store and a street hawker selling dodgy DVDs, and can understand the difference – so why should it be any different online.
It was promised that presentations would be put online, but I don’t know where – maybe the website of the IPPR, which organised the seminar, or the All Party Internet Group‘s own site, which ironically enough is an advert for how not to design a usable website.
UPDATE: The powerpoints of the seminar, and a PDF summary, are now on the IPPR website.