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Whose Book Is it Anyway?

 | 
Janis Jefferies
, 
Sarah Kember

Appendix: CREATe Position Papers

2. Is the Current Copyright Framework fit for Purpose in Relation to Writing, Reading and Publishing in the Digital Age?

Laurence Kaye

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1This is not a new question. I remember taking part in a debate on the same subject in 1994 at ‘Cyberia’, one of London’s original Internet cafes — remember them? That was four years before Brin and Page published their algorithm for Google’s first search engine and nearly ten years before Facebook, Twitter and social media appeared.

2The fact that we are still debating this subject is revealing. Some people take the view that copyright is a dodo, belonging to a ‘read only’ world that cannot come to terms with a world of linking, sharing, mixing and mashing. From that perspective, copyright has been dying a lingering death since the Internet first appeared in the early 1990s.

3I reject that view. Copyright is inherently format-and platform-neutral. Copyright exists in literary, audio-visual, artistic and other works in whatever digital, analogue or other forms in which they are expressed. It is ideas that fuel creativity and innovation. Copyright does not protect ideas, but only their expression.

4Change driven by ‘digital’ — technologies, networks, platforms and tools — is complex and multi-factorial. It affects everything, from the law and business models through to social, cultural and political norms. These changes aren’t synchronised. Technological change outpaces everything. It raises questions for others to answer. Sometimes the law seeks to anticipate or at least keep pace with technological change. In other cases, it is playing ‘catch-up’. That’s often the job of the courts. For instance, the ease of creating and redistributing perfect digital copies of copyright content raises questions about how the laws of copyright and free movement of goods and services are reconciled when applied to online marketplaces for pre-owned digital content.

5The point is that working through these issues and finding balanced solutions takes time. Perhaps the immediacy and instantaneous nature of online communications makes it hard for us to have patience. The fact that we are still working on solutions in the copyright field doesn’t mean that those solutions can’t be found. Rather, adaptation and adjustment simply take time.

6I am not complacent nor am I arguing that everything in the copyright garden is perfect. In the UK, a number of changes to copyright exceptions will be introduced following the Hargreaves Review. At a UK and European level there is a framework in place for orphan works. There are also a number of initiatives to improve rights management, including the Copyright Hub here in the UK. And that highlights the biggest challenge: how to make the management of copyright permissions as easy as ‘click to buy’ when you shop online.

7The copyright framework is fundamentally Darwinian. It never stands still. It is always adapting. Sure, some would prefer to dispense with it or to dilute it through ever wider exceptions, compulsory licences and a shortening of the term of protection for copyright works.

8But readers need professional authors of literary, artistic and audiovisual works to create works they can enjoy in whatever form they want. Copyright is the facilitator of the value chain that exists between authors and readers. For everyone in between, including publishers, their reward depends on the value that their authors on the one hand and the readers on the other perceive them to add. A perfectly Darwinian solution!

9So the copyright framework is and will continue to adapt, whatever the new technologies and indeed forms of work. In my view, the real focus of work is not the framework per se but the management of rights, especially through the ‘machine-to-machine’ communication of rights.

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