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Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Fixing copyright: the solution

Unless you've been living in a cave you'll have guessed there's a problem with copyright and the internet. And if you've read any of my blog before you'll have guessed this worries me. A great deal. So much so I co-founded a new policy organisation to deal with such issues now and in the future.

We can't stop digital copying without infringing on even more important rights and freedoms.  Besides, even if we shut down the internet, entirely, lossless copying on an "industrial scale" can happen silently and remotely between handheld devices using point-to-point communications technologies such as Bluetooth, WiFi, etc.

We need to reassess not only what copyright means to society, but do this whilst bearing in mind what free and open information flows mean to society.

It's been 2 years in the making, here is my proposed "solution" (or, rather, a framework for creating a legislative solution):

1.) Redefine copyright as: the right to prevent a person from making financial gain from another person's creative works for a fixed period long enough to suitably reward the creator(s) and provide a competitive return on any commercial investment needed to bring that class of creative work to the market.

2.) Define "financial gain from another person's creative works" in clear unambiguous terms suitable for the digital era.

3.) Develop a legal framework of proportionate measures designed to tackle those who gain financially from another person's creative works.

We can't continue to build on a system designed for the analogue era.  The time has come to start again, re-write the rule book.  Redraft the laws and treaties and create a new intellectual property right fit for the new reality.



  1. No need to re-write the laws and treaties - create a new right applicable only to digital works. Say that digital copyright doesn't apply in the analogue world and vice versa.

    That way analogue works continue to be protected.

  2. What if someone copies something (say MS Office) and gives copies away to anyone and everyone? The person does not gain financially, but that really ought to be illegal.....

  3. That's exactly the point. There's no effective deterrent against that now, the law doesn't work.

    Except the example you give is poor because the hassle of making MS Office work without activation outweighs the benefits...

  4. Strictly speaking, why should it be illegal to copy and redistribute for free something you've bought? Once you've bought something, you own it and it's your to do with as you see fit. There's no automatic right for the publishers to restrict what their customers can and can't do with stuff they've bought.

    I don't see why this would be any different for analogue works either, although there are precious few works still around that are analogue and in copyright anyway, so that's a moot point.

  5. "...competitive return on any commercial investment needed..." needs to also be further defined. For argument's sake, if I were to regard the investment needed for something to be somewhere between huge and infinite, it would take quite a while for the copyright to expire. You get the idea...

  6. Well put. There has been a great confusion of how to properly deal with stuff in the intangible digital domain. Far too many people simply try to apply old business methods, which just don't make sense, or worse, create nasty problems when dealing with this medium.

    One of the biggest problems at the heart of this confusion is that people are mixing the economic issues with issues concerning attribution and authorship.

    I came to a similar idea a number of years ago and tried to create a license to express that (www.lilec.org). My hope was that by separating the commercial component from attribution and exposure to our public cultural milieu, we could sensibly deal with each in a modern context. Shortly thereafter the Creative Commons published its licenses, which do a nice job distinguishing permissions for these things. But the problem with licenses is they put the onus on the creator to apply them every time, and a proliferation of licenses make usage difficult and unwieldy.

    It would be far better to form a modern legal and commercial framework as you suggest.


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