from the same-as-it-ever-was dept
Maybe it's just me, but this year's annual meeting of the global elite at the World Economic Forum in Davos seemed particularly irrelevant. In fact, all those movers and shakers had packed up and flown off in their private jets before I had even noticed that they had flown in, and it's hard to detect much of a ripple from anything that happened there (or maybe I just move in the wrong circles....)
Fortunately, an ancillary group called the "World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on IP" does seem to have produced something -- a document entitled "Digital Copyright Principles" [pdf]. As a blog post on the USPTO's site from one of the Council's participants explains:
The Digital Copyright Principles seek to promote a balanced view of public benefits and private rights, with copyright as a means to achieve important societal ends. By focusing on what we ultimately want copyright to accomplish, the principles seek to emphasize the common ground between different groups, with the aim of moving forward a principle-based discussion.
Well, that sounds good, since copyright should indeed promote a balanced view of public benefits and private rights. But against a background of the copyright ratchet moving the term of copyright steadily upwards, from the original 14 + 14 years of the Statute of Anne to today's life + 70 years, and of million-dollar fines being levied against a mother of four found guilty of sharing a small number of songs online, that balance is conspicuous by its absence.
Despite the laudable aspiration noted above, you will not be shocked to learn that the Digital Copyright Principles do not in fact call for the term of copyright to be returned to the original and more reasonable 28 years, or for the repeal of punitive and disproportionate laws that impose huge fines for trivial levels of infringement. Instead they start off thus:
Technology is dramatically shifting the ways in which content is created, stored, moved, and consumed. Information can be moved nearly instantaneously to anywhere in the world. Cloud computing has upended traditional assumptions about the tie between physical location and access to content. And, massive amounts of information can now be stored in devices that easily fit in the palm of a hand.
That basically means you can't stop people sharing stuff, whether they do it by pushing it up in the cloud, or onto a terabyte portable hard disc. So where does this perceptive analysis lead?
What has not changed, however, is the underlying importance and value of the intellectual property (IP) embodied in creative content. The principles below are intended to serve as a framework for policymakers, copyright owners, and content consumers to ensure that the value of that IP continues to be appropriately recognized, while also enabling current and emerging technologies to be harnessed in ways that benefit everyone in the IP ecosystem.
Gosh, now there's a surprise. Instead of accepting that this amazing and exciting new world of digital abundance necessarily calls for equally bold new ways of thinking and doing, and maybe even some radical changes in the legislative framework, what we really need according to the gurus of Davos...is more of the same.
As for the principles themselves, the "balance" turns out to be "appropriate balance" -- can't have anything inappropriate, of course, which might include things like treating the public as an active, equal partner in the discussion, rather than as the passive "content consumers" mentioned in the quotation above. However, the good news is that all that lovely content should at least be "quality" -- no cat videos here, thank you very much -- and should be available in "as many formats as possible." But given a call for creative works to receive "meaningful protection", I think we can assume that equates to "as many DRM'd formats as possible."
Copyright law should be "updated as appropriate to respond to new technologies and uses," but since that's followed by the principle that rights should be "meaningfully, practically, cost-effectively, and proportionally enforced," that probably means continuing to wage an unwinnable war on new ways of sharing stuff, with the costs of doing so borne by ISPs and the public, rather than the poor, long-suffering publishers.
The final principle is as follows:
The public should be educated about the purpose, scope and nature of copyright protections, including exceptions, and the reasons for proposed changes or government action.
It's kind of them to mention "exceptions" at last -- the only place that the other side of the copyright equation is even hinted at -- but in the interests of "appropriate balance" I think we need to add at least one more principle:
Creators and their publishers should be educated about the purpose, scope and nature of the public domain, including its enclosure, and the reasons why people who weren't at Davos think the present copyright system is unfair, inefficient and unfit for the digital world.
Suggestions for further principles are invited in the comments....