20 April 2009

Rufus Pollock On Copyright and its Sorrows

Brilliant, succinct post by Rufus Pollock explaining what copyright is supposed to be doing (if it's doing anything):

copyright is instrument created in order to promote the interests of society as a whole not to promote the interests of the producers of creative works. Of course we care about remunerating producers and artists both because they are members of society but also, and more importantly, because by remunerating them we ensure the creation of more works which society as a whole can enjoy.

Nevertheless, it is essential to keep in mind that the purpose of copyright is broader than to promote the interests of a single group. This fact then is central to any assessment of the form and level of copyright and it has important implications. For example if we have a proposal that will help artists but overall harm society we should not support that proposal.

Moreover, he puts his finger on precisely why people flout current copyright laws - and how to fix it:

the successful enforcement of any rule depends on that rule having public legitimacy — being considered reasonable by the majority of the populace. Currently that is not the case: copyright suffers from a serious lack “respect” and has marked lack of public legitimacy.

If you wish to change that we need the rules to be fair and balanced — it hard to have respect and enforcement of an unfair system. For example, copyright term should be reduced and we should expressly avoid extensions, especially retrospective ones like that currently before Parliament in relation to sound recordings. Such policies appear to reflect nothing more than special interest lobbying and this can only make copyright’s “marked lack of public legitimacy” worse — I would note here the recent joint statement put out European IP law centres who emphasized that retrospective term extension would seriously undermine respect for copyright and make “piracy the easy option”.

Exactly; he is even able to single out why copyright is now going through a crisis in this respect:

I would also argue that just rules must also be reasonable rules. For example, is it reasonable in an age of costless reproduction to continue to promote a model of copyright based on exclusive rights? Much of the “problem” of unauthorised file-sharing could be resolved if we moved to an alternative compensation system based on an equitable remuneration right approach.

*This* is what the media industries just cannot grasp: that costless reproduction has changed the public's perception of what is fair. This, in its turn, means that content producers have to change their own expectations - and business models - if they want society to enforce properly the rules surrounding copyright.

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