28 February 2012

LIKE 33: Copyright, Hargreaves and DEA

I had to rush back from working in Cardiff to get to LIKE 33 on time but I was not going to miss this one as copyright and related subjects are a hot topic for me.

I even wrote a blog post ahead of the discussion to make my position absolutely clear. I do not like copyright!

I am not the only one who finds this topic interesting and, once again, LIKE was a full house with a waiting list.

We arrived in dribs and drabs and started networking with our first drink until the bewitching hour of 6:30 when we all sat our appointed tables.

These are arranged by food choice and, as a vegetarian, I have less choice than most others and I usually find myself on the right side of the room. This suits me fine - I like being on an edge so I can see the whole room easily.

Our guide for the evening was Professor Charles Oppenheim who everybody else seemed to have heard of. But then they are all real librarians and information managers while I'm just an enthusiastic dabbler.

His talk was lively, informative, humorous, provocative and captivating. My poor notes from the meeting are a testament of my inability to listen, write and tweet all at the same time and not a fault of the speaker. These are my words, not his.

Charles took us through some of the history and current status of digital copyright and the issues arising from this.

Orphaned work are a well-known problem and are a major issue for digital heritage projects like Google Books. We may lose some things because we do not know who to ask about saving them.

Copyright laws were brought in and are continually being strengthened due to the effective lobbying of the large media companies. There are no equivalent large companies arguing the other case (though Google may step in to this role). Suppliers are organised and wealthy whereas consumers are not.

In many ways librarians are well placed to lead the fightback through their knowledge of managing information assets (they used to be called books) but they do not have the political training nor the budgets to go head-to-head against media lobbyists.

The people, like the PRS, who enforce copyright laws are all over zealous bullies. They pick on a few people and make it a national story to scare other people off.

I noted that many forceful advocates of copyright have been caught with their pants down copying other people's work. These people do not believe in copyright as a right, they only believe in their copyright as a source of income.

However little money Cliff Richard gets from his old recordings it is too much.

Hargreaves recommends making some exceptions to the general copyright laws, e.g. to allow archivists to do their work.

Copying digital material permanently is illegal but recording to play later (time-shirting) is allowed. Technology will soon fill this gap and we will be able to record everything that is broadcast just in case we want to watch it one day. Home computers already have terrabytes of storage.

The DEA is a disaster (no news there then). The 3-strikes rule is most likely to impact providers of wi-fi to the public, e.g. hotels and coffee chains, and they might be forced to withdrawn this service. That would be a monumental step backwards.

The glimmer of hope is that the legislation will be surpassed by technology (e.g. more storage and user-friendly peer-to-peer networks), international loop-holes (e.g. stream the latest blockbuster from a site in China) and growing public indifference to copyright (e.g. everything is free, isn't it?).

The later is possibly a road to anarchy but it seems more preferable to me than the road the big media companies want to take us down.

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