Thursday, August 30, 2007

Copyright in a technological flux

Microsoft, Google and others, working through the C&CIA (a technology trade group), has mounted a campaign Defend Fair Use for the liberal interpretation of fair use/fair dealing for copyright materials. It is surprising to see Google and Microsoft as allies... but of course they have a fair point. In a clever piece of timing, today, Google's YouTube strikes a deal through which it will remunerate music copyright holders for the 'performance' of their materials on submitted YouTube videos. The artists' deal was negotiated by the Perfoming Rights Society. According to the Guardian the deal could be worth 10s of millions of pounds. I wonder how they know that?

At the very same time, in a text-book illustration of how not to mount a pressure group the STM (Scientific Medical Technical) publishers have announced PRISM which has drawn understandable derision from the blogosphere. To see how botched a PR move this is, take a look at Andrew Leonard on Salon. The STM publishers are very worried that they may lose a profitable market because scientifc researchers are being encouraged to make their research Open Access (ie freely available, especially when the research has been publicly funded). Their PR move has really just drawn attention to the impossible position they appear to be defending -- that it is a good and necessary thing for the results of publicly funded research not to be freely available to the public. Whatever you do, you dont want to appear to be arguing for that.

These are difficult issues, but Google and Microsoft appear to understand better how to manage and present a case than the Association of American Publishers. Anyone seriously concerned about copyright and the impact of technology on our current practice, should take a look at Pamela Samuelson's Preliminary Thoughts on Copyright Reform. Professor Samuelson points out that any major statutes on copyright are unlikely in the next few years. She does not say this, but we may conclude that the practice on copyright will be reformed by technological breakthroughs more than by legislative fiat. As the Chinese proverb has it:- "when the typhoon rages the bamboo bends". Clever of the MCPS-PRS Alliance to bend with the YouTube hurricane. Clever of Google to let it be known that 10s of millions will be going to musicians who may have been ripped-off, just when they are mounting a campaign for relaxations in the expectations of fair use.

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