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Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The knowledge economy paradox

Books don't enter the public domain in the UK until
70 years after the death of the author
The single problem facing the content industry: the internet wasn't designed for monetised content.  It's a technology to facilitate knowledge transfer; sharing of information, and content is just information.

Digital technologies in general are not well-suited to "protecting" information (if, by protection, we're talking about preventing content being freely copied).

Software engineers strive to simplify interaction - interaction between computers and people, and between computers and other computers; to make data transfer easier, not harder.

I'm painfully aware that reducing the protection afforded to rights holders, either by reducing the length of copyright terms or broadening fair use, ignores the conundrum of how content creators are to be encouraged or rewarded for investing time and money in content.

But copyright in the internet age is fatally flawed, given:

Premise 1: undesirable consequences result from measures designed to protect digital content. Closed platforms promote monopolies and prevent knowledge sharing. When open platforms are used, measures to prevent illicit sharing heavily impinge on a consumer's civil rights - right to privacy in communications and right to freedom of speech and expression. 

Premise 2: knowledge sharing, and the ability to build on other people's principles, ideas and works, is vital to innovation.

The knowledge economy paradox

Conclusion: jurisdictions that attempt to enforce a strong copyright protection regime will see reduced innovation, especially in the knowledge economy, compare to jurisdictions that adopt a weaker copyright protection model.  This leads to a paradox.

Jurisdictions adopting a strong copyright protection mechanism will have robust measures in place that allow trade in intellectual property (IP) with a minimised risk of infringement. The IP markets will work, yet there is a risk these markets will stifle innovation by erecting barriers that prevent knowledge sharing and re-use. Licensing costs and terms can make it hard to launch new products that build on the strictly-protected intellectual property rights of others.

Countries opting for weak protection of IP will have increased innovation, but innovators will struggle to protect each innovation, therefore the innovative output will not be fully reflected in the economic output in these jurisdictions.  The IP markets will not work.

It is therefore important for protection of IP to strike a balance, both in the length of the term of protection and in providing fair mechanisms for licensing and re-use.

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