Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Copyright is not a bad thing, it just needs renegotiating

Head of Communications, Luke Upchurch, on the launch of CI's new film on copyright.

CI’s new short film, When Copyright Goes Bad, is about the renegotiation of copyright. That may not sound much like a consumer rights topic to many: indeed, as fairer-copyright gurus Fred Von Lohmann and Michael Geist put it in the film, until the Internet, consumers barely even noticed copyright. But the digitalisation of content has changed this. Now the act of copying is a daily experience for hundreds of thousands of people.

Our aim with this film is to provide consumer groups - and anyone else interested in the impact of copyright on consumer access - with an introduction to this, most contentious of debates. The film touches upon why copyright is a consumer issue, how the mainstream content industry is demonising consumer behaviour, and where the campaign for fairer copyright laws could go from here.

Researching this film was eye-opening. The tensions around the role of consumers within this debate became apparent pretty quickly, with some experts warning us about coming across as pro-piracy, and others about appearing too conciliatory to industry. One thing that was clear: the active role of consumer groups is crucial if consumers are going to be fairly represented in this process. This is why CI’s Access to Knowledge project is so important.

As one critic of the status quo put it to me in the film ‘we’re not against copyright, we just want a better model.’ Indeed, as the title When Copyright Goes Bad suggests, copyright can be good. Well-functioning copyright can remunerate content creators and provide fair public access at the same time. This film introduces the idea that this balance is being lost, and sheds light on some exciting new approaches to using content.

As explored in the film, things like remix culture, mashups , fan art and Creative Commons licences are changing the way we interact with creative content. As Hank Shocklee of Public Enemy fame explained to me, even the definitions of consumer and producer are now being blurred.

We have tried to embrace the spirit of these new approaches with this film, making it available in French and Spanish, and in as many formats as possible under a Creative Commons 3.0 licence. This means When Copyright Goes Bad is free to copy and adapt by anyone, as long as content is attributed and the same CC licence is used.

We will also be making available extended interviews with all the contributors, as well as with other experts not featured in the film, under the same CC licence at A2Knetwork.org/access-our-footage. By providing free access in this way we are allowing others to go on and create new work about the issue and further advance discussion around this highly-charged subject.

The copyright debate is about as polarised as it gets. There’s an industry with its head in the sand at one end, and calls for near anarchy at the other. One thing is for sure though; the analogue business model that serves content gatekeepers and artificially restricts consumer access needs to be renegotiated in this new digital world. When Copyright Goes Bad is an introduction to that renegotiation and, I hope, a call for a reasoned debate about the purpose and practice of copyright.

1 comment:

  1. Copyright reformists prefer to frame the debate as polarised precisely in order to scare people away from the implicitly invalid extremes, i.e. to insinuate that copyright abolition is as antisocial as draconian enforcement.

    Nevertheless, it remains a valid argument and position that the individual's natural rights should be released from derogation by an anachronistic 18th century privilege.