Monday 19 November 2007

QMIPRI Herschel Smith Seminar - The Wrong Side Of The Turn Of The Century?

Tonight I attended a seminar organised by by the Queen Mary intellectual property research institute (QMIPRI) with the title "The Right Side of the Blanket: Music Research, Licensing and the Internet". Stripped of its research oriented plea for understanding and regionalist dissent, this lecture (part of the continuing Herschel Smith series) was mainly an out-and-out call from J.A.L. Sterling for a world-wide licensing body for internet music and video content.

He envisages collecting bodies in each country liasing between rights holders and his global internet licensing agency (GILA), GILA would then be contacted by people who wished to license copyrighted music. In this way people would always have a way of licensing material if they wanted, and the problem of trying to enforce internet rights globally would be solved.

There's one main problem with this solution (as well as, in the FOARP's opinion, a whole raft of minor ones) - it's more than ten years too late. In fact it seems to represent the generational divide that exists in the IP profession right now. On the one hand there is a fairly liberal younger generation, most of whom have no doubt illegally downloaded material from the internet at least once in their lives, and on the other there is an older generation who would never dream of doing so.

People already widely link to music and video available on the internet to illustrate their points, must they go through each one of their links and obtain a license for each one? Why should they now that they have potentially made many such links in the assumption that they would not be called to account for them?

The example of researchers linking to music/video to support a point made in a research paper is a misleading one, these people are worried because they work for large bodies that have a higher likelihood of being called to account that individuals acting alone. The real thing that worries the entertainment industry is internet content displacing sales, something which research hardly threatens.

Sterling's GILA solution would only work if there was enforcement along the line of what the communist authorities in China currently practice on their corner of the internet - mass blocking and censorship administered via internet service providers. Of course our authorities would hopefully use such power only to block copyright infringement and enforce the law as it stands right now. I am in no sense an anarchist, but even I would find this pretty hard to accept.

So what is the answer then? In the FOARP's humble opinion, the internet is hardly likely to change to fit abstract ideas of how copyright should operate. It already exists as a large and free standing body of work which people are unlikely to want to change now. In this case copyright must change to suit the internet.

Will copyright be broken up? Will exemptions have to be written into law world wide? Will copyright dissapear altogether? All of these seem improbable, but not half as improbable as some vast Thunderbirds style organisation (no doubt based on their own little island in lake Geneva) with the mission of licensing IP which is already in use worldwide.

No comments: