As those of you who read my blog regularly will know, I have a long-standing interest in the issue of copyright reform; a contentious policy area that never fails to ignite impassioned debate. Unfortunately this debate all too frequently descends into adversarial posturing and, ultimately, stalemate. In an attempt to move beyond this, a diverse group of policy makers, artists and industry specialists met at the British Library last week to discuss the scope for enacting European-wide reform. MEPs in attendance included fellow S&D member Luigi Berlinuer, Austrian Green Eva Lichtenberger, and Lib Dem Bill Newton Dunn. Disappointingly, this was one of the meetings I was forced to miss as a result of illness. Fortunately, however, the organisers were happy for my constituency assistant to attend on my behalf, so I’m able to report back on the results of the meeting.
The general consensus was that the existing rights regime needs to be tempered by further exceptions if we are to promote and facilitate research and creativity. Current rules, it was argued, are fragmented, arcane and restrictive, seeming only to cement opposition between rights holders (who are often not the artists themselves) and users. In many countries existing intellectual property laws prevent even those steps necessary to preserve and archive digital material. This has meant that much of our recent digital history has decayed and become digitally corrupt.
Researchers and educational institutions suffer most from the present rights regime. In addition to finding some resources inaccessible as a result of decay, many confront what the BL describes as ‘digital lockdown’ resulting from the complex web of rights protections circling much modern material. Wilma Mossink, a Dutch academic, noted that she confronted restrictions so frequently that she felt unable to capitalise on the wealth of material available, wary of incurring costs or attracting legal disputes. Martyn Ware, of Human League fame, had encountered the same problem whilst contributing to an education project for autistic children, which had hoped to broadcast BBC material.
This issue is far from settled and European-wide reform of copyright law will require lengthy negotiation if we are to strike the right balance between the private interest of the creator and broader interest of the citizen. However, we must move forward with this if we are to promote creativity, innovation and cross-border collaboration
The Copyright for Creativity ‘Declaration for Europe’ can be accessed here.