Copyright Vital For Authors, Adaptable For Wide Access, WIPO Panellists Say
By Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch on 17/06/2011 @ 3:59 pm
Copyright is necessary to allow authors to live from their trade and to guarantee their independence, and exceptions should be decided by authors and publishers, according to panellists on a copyright dialogue held at the World Intellectual Property Organization this week.
WIPO organized a High-Level Copyright Dialogue on the Book and Publishing Industry on 15 June, the first of such dialogues. The next one will be on film, on 19 July, followed by one on music on 12 September, WIPO Director General Francis Gurry told the event. All of the speakers at this event were copyright proponents.
The high-level segment took place on the first day of the 22nd WIPO Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR), being held from 15-24 June. Gurry said the high-level segment happening during the SCCR was just a coincidence.
The panel discussion contrasted somewhat with the debate going on inside the SCCR as delegates were discussing a draft treaty on access to reading material for the visually impaired, which involves exceptions to copyright.
Alaa Al Aswany, a prominent Egyptian novelist, said that in Egypt, the lack of copyright protection was used by the Mubarak regime as a political tool to keep intellectuals in check, he said. Unable to make a living from their writing, fiction writing could never be financially sustainable and writers had to have other jobs. Al Aswany is also a dentist for that reason.
The Mubarak administration would hire writers to sit in committees (rather than write), he said. “You’d get paid to shut your mouth,” Al Aswany said. Egypt must have a law to protect copyright, he said, especially after the revolution when the country needs independent writers. “In a dictatorship, the idea of an independent writer makes the dictator uncomfortable,” he said, “because writers know too much, they talk too much, and criticise too much.”
An Egyptian official remarked that the Egyptian revolution was about access first and foremost. Protecting copyright is necessary, he said, but the public at large also needs protection and development priorities should not be forgotten.
Al Aswany meanwhile said the Egyptian movie industry is threatened by the lack of copyright. The movie industry in Egypt is the biggest in the Arab world, he said, adding that the first cinema showing ever was in Paris in 1895, and just 11 months later a showing was held in Egypt.
But, nowadays, “a few days after the release of any movie, you find the movie on the internet,” he added. The music industry faces the same problems, according to Al Aswany, and “a few hours after the release of any album, you will find it on the internet.” There is no tool to bring these people to justice in Egypt, he said.
A way must be found to make textbooks for universities affordable, Al Aswany said in response to the Egyptian official’s comment. However, he said, “I don’t think the lack of protection is the right way.” It is the creator of the work who should be able to choose to give his work either for free or for a very fair price, as he did many times for special audiences, Al Aswany said.
For Richard Charkin, executive director of Bloomsbury Publishing, publishing is also investing in the future. Copyright is a flexible system, he said, giving an example of Bloomsbury Academic’s business model . The publishing company publishes social sciences and humanities research publications. They are available online under a Creative Commons non-commercial licence, and for sale as printed books. The publications are thus widely available, Charkin said, but surprisingly, he said that sales of books seem to be higher when they offer free downloads than if they do not.
Copyright is not fundamentally damaged, and is adaptable in many ways, he said, arguing that it is possible for authors to propose some of their work to be freely accessible if they choose.
However, Charkin said, “We find it frustrating” when obstacles come between writers and readers and particularly in the developed world, libraries are under severe threat, and government cuts are hurting, he said. For a lot of people, libraries are the place where they can access knowledge.
“We are on the edge of a golden age,” Charkin said of the digital era. It is the “first time we can reach audience 24/7,” and people can buy instantly, “the reach is fantastic,” he said. Then again, “we could be blown off course,” by several things, including “our own stupidity,” by using the wrong business models, and by piracy. But “if copyright is eroded, it will not be a golden age,” it will be a disaster, he said.
Jason Epstein, founder of the Library of America, former editorial director of Random House and cofounder of the New York Review of Books, said strong, enforceable copyright is necessary to help writers survive. The digital age presents a complex challenge to copyright theories, he said, in part because of the possibility of instantaneous copy of material through downloading, and the difficulty of enforcing copyright.
In the digital era, anybody can be a writer and anybody can be a publisher, but copyrights are still vital as “who knows when a Shakespeare will emerge from the digital chaos,” he said.
A Mexican official commented that, sometimes, free access has a positive impact on sales, which might show that the issue is not clear cut. Charkin answered that “giving things away is a tradition,” and to give away to increase sales is an old concept. In the case of Bloomsbury Academic, part of the decision was motivated by the fact that they wanted to attract the best writers and the argument that their writing would be widely accessible won the case. However, for fictional literature, he said, “if you give away the digital file, you lose the sales.”
Article printed from Intellectual Property Watch: http://www.ip-watch.org
URL to article: http://www.ip-watch.org/2011/06/17/copyright-vital-for-authors-adaptable-for-wide-access-wipo-panellists-say/
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 Bloomsbury Academic’s business model: http://www.bloomsburyacademic.com/page/Our$0020Business$0020Model/our-business-model