Experts Discuss Balance Between Digital Content Access, ProtectionPublished on 24 February 2006 @ 10:10 am
By Tove Iren S. Gerhardsen for Intellectual Property Watch
The impact of copyrights on access to everything from digital books in libraries to online music was discussed at a 21 February side event of a World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) meeting on a development agenda.
One of the main issues was whether copyrights are good or bad for the public domain and how a balance may be struck. The four panelists represented both sides of the argument at the meeting. The panelists are among the numerous non-governmental and industry groups attending the meeting of the Provisional Committee on Proposals for a WIPO Development Agenda (IPW, WIPO, 21 February 2006).
Paul Aiken of the Authors Guild of America discussed the group’s lawsuit against Google for its online library project, which the authors view as large-scale copyright infringement. He also said that there are numerous examples of copyrighted work being provided widely to the public in a legal manner. For example, Yahoo has signed an “open content alliance” with the universities of Toronto and California, and Microsoft has signed a deal with the British Library to provide access to some 25 million pages of material.
Aiken told Intellectual Property Watch that through deals such as these, there were a number of books available digitally in a legal manner. Companies such as Yahoo and Microsoft had an incentive to publish them as they wanted people to get to their website to view their ads.
Aiken also did not think it was of concern that the companies decide which books should be available online, adding that they were already “casting a wide net” with the Google library’s deal with Oxford University, for example, which would cover millions of volumes.
He also mentioned projects such as “First Book” (firstbook.org), in which books were provided to needy children for free in a legal manner in which deals had been struck with the authors. Another project was “First Book Micro Price,” in which books were provided for a price below the market price but again, the distribution did not violate copyright law, Aiken said.
Exceptions For Education Envisioned
Teresa Hackett of Electronic Information for Libraries (eIFL) had another point of view. She argued that protection of electronic works can make access for libraries difficult and this constitutes a double burden for libraries in developing countries which may not be able to afford the extra costs incurred, such as licence fees and rights clearance.
In order to lessen the digital divide between north and south, eIFL is working in more than 50 developing and transition countries to negotiate discount prices and new business models with publishers for access to electronic resources, she said.
Hackett said that the copyright agenda is increasingly driven by multinational mass entertainment industries, which have particular and legitimate concerns. These are however not directly applicable to other situations such as not-for-profit education and research, yet libraries find themselves in this “digital marketplace.”
According to the WIPO Copyright Treaty, “exceptions and limitations” in copyrights may be extended to digital works, but libraries have met with strong opposition from rights holders when they have tried to implement this, she said.
Finally, she cited a problem with technological protection measures (TPMs) which she said may jeopardise public access to works and about which the British Library recently expressed concern during a hearing of the UK All Parliamentary Internet Group.
TPMs provide ways of controlling access and use of copyrighted material which, it has been estimated, have an average life cycle of three to five years. One possible solution might be to provide libraries “clean” copies of works with no TPMs, she said.
Hackett said eIFL supports the work on a development agenda at WIPO. The group also welcomes a Chilean proposal that suggests studies be conducted on the impact of intellectual property rights on issues such as education in developing countries. “Why not give developing countries the same flexibilities that developed countries had when they developed?” Hackett said.
Cutting Edge of Creative Commons
Ronaldo Lemos of Creative Commons Brazil suggested a solution somewhere between the views of the two previous speakers.
The Creative Commons system provides the authors some flexibilities in using the copyright system as they can voluntarily give away some rights but still have their works protected (known as “reasonable copyright”). This is particularly useful for the digital world in which the consumers “need to make a copy of everything to have access to it,” Lemos said, referring to music for example. Accordingly, there is a pervasiveness of copyright in the digital age, he said. Another reason for such a system is the emergence of a “remix culture” in which old and new works may be mixed into a third product, he said.
The Creative Commons thus provides various degrees of copyright, with symbols such as “BY:” indicating that the work is protected but may be copied and distributed as long as the author or licenser is given credit, Lemos said. It is thus based on copyright, because the authors have choices regarding the level of protection and keep “some rights reserved” Lemos said.
Lemos said that there were 53 million “linkbacks” to the licenses under the Creative Commons system at the moment and the organisation, located in San Francisco with offices in Berlin and London, works with a network of partners in over 50 countries.
Rumour of Copyright’s Demise Greatly Exaggerated
Shira Perlmutter of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry described the two Internet-related treaties negotiated at WIPO in 1996 and discussed how the consensus that was reached then on an appropriate copyright framework for the digital age had played out in the “real world” over the past 10 years.
Perlmutter said that in the mid-1990s it had been rumoured that “copyright was dead” as it would be impossible to control rights in the digital environment. Now in 2006, however, there is a flourishing digital market, she said, with hundreds of legitimate online music services and millions of tracks licensed by record companies. Legitimate services are also continuing to open, including recently in Australia, Asia and Latin America, Perlmutter said.
The flourishing of these markets required two prerequisites, one, a foundation of good copyright law, and two, the use of digital rights management. She argued that DRM is an essential tool enabling a diverse range of options for consumers to enjoy music, such as a la carte downloading, streaming and other subscriptions, and ring tones.
But piracy has to be controlled as the market will not function fully if it has to compete with free, she said. Perlmutter described recent cases as a positive development, with courts on different continents finding that unauthorized peer-to-peer services can be liable for intentionally inducing infringement by their users. Overall, she welcomed the Internet’s potential for numerous alternative models of marketing and distribution, including promotional uses and the Creative Commons model, which can co-exist with more traditional models. The key, she said, was to ensure an understanding of all the options the law makes possible.
Aiken said that the argument that technology hindered access did not hold true as there had never been as much content available as there is today.
Perlmutter said that if problems were experienced by libraries based on particular applications of DRM, specific solutions could be found in order to avoid undermining other beneficial uses of DRM.
The side-event was well-attended by participants at the ongoing WIPO meeting as well as by attendees from outside. At one point WIPO Deputy Director General Rita Hayes also visited the room, sources said. David Uwemedimo of the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers chaired the event.