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Monday, 5 March 2012

Why is copyright dominating all digital policy debates when powerful copyright provisions exist & sales are booming?

A few weeks ago I went to a Pictfor debate in parliament to discuss competition law in relation to search engines.  Last week I went to a cyber security seminar also held in Parliament.

Two things struck me. (1) These two events were rare for a digital policy agenda and debate calendar seemingly driven by copyright; and, (2) attendees at both events still managed to bring discussion back to copyright - on one occasion identifying themselves as a lobbyist for the copyright industries.

It's short-sighted, senseless and pernicious to view the direct revenue generated by sales of copyrighted content as anything more than just one part of the wider digital economy.

To equate protection of direct revenue from copyright to financial security of our nation or national security  - as some now seem to be doing - is dangerous.

It elevates the business problems of one relatively small industry dealing in entertainment up to a par with genuine national security threats which could e.g. prevent remote medical monitoring equipment or water treatment control systems from functioning properly.

Whilst it's right to be worried about how the creative industries will survive in the digital age, all indicators are that business is booming for a range of digital goods, despite piracy:

Slow innovation in film

Many film distributors are yet to truly embrace legal digital streaming services for the majority of their catalogues and I fully expect films to see similar growth when they do.

At the moment the market for streaming movies is dominated by protection as was the case ten years ago for digital music sales. Studios for example have forced LOVEFiLM.com to move from widely-supported Flash to Silverlight in the name of content protection.

This has prevented many computers, e.g. those running Linux, from accessing LOVEFiLM at all, whilst forcing Android tablet owners to install an App to view.

These restrictive moves come whilst many studios are painfully slow in releasing much of their back catalogue to legal streaming services and some are making legal viewing of newer content impossible by increasing the delay between a film being released and being available to rent or stream.

An excessive emphasis on content "protection" and a refusal to embrace emerging digital markets marred the music industry for around a decade, until the industry wised up to the reality of the digital market: give consumers the products they want in the formats they want and they will buy.

The movie industry is making the same mistakes, and is in my view suffering as a consequence. Ultimately only time will tell.


Powerful laws already exist

On the legal front, copyright holders already have some very tough laws at their disposal, yet are unwavering in their demands for new powers despite the risk of creating disproportionately restrictive online publishing regimes that threaten unrelated industries.

For example laws in the UK and in many other European countries give:
  • Ability to block overseas websites for copyright infringement, under S97A of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. This power was introduced in the UK in 2003 and is mandated by a European Directive, yet the music industry is still calling for duplicate web blocking provisions in the Digital Economy Act 2010 to be brought into law, one can only assume those making such calls haven't been told an equivalent law already exists.
  • Requirements on service providers to remove copyright-infringing content under "notice and take-down" (similar to DMCA take-down notices).  These powers again are Europe-wide, plus the European Commission has already signalled its intent to make such procedures more effective and uniform across Europe. Copyright holders can rest safe knowing that concerns are being dealt with.
  • The Digital Economy Act 2010 gives copyright holders very powerful tools to notify, track (via a system known as infringement lists), punish and sue (after requesting from ISPs the details of account holders on infringement lists) those who download copyright material from unlicensed sources.
  • Criminal penalties exist for those who upload copyrighted content. In 2002 a maximum 2-year sentence was increased to ten years for some offences.  In fact the mere playing of a CD or showing of a film in public [S107(3)(B)] without permission from the copyright owner can be punished by up to 3 months in prison.
Update 15:16 some issues politicians should be focussing on: open competition in the digital marketplace (ie net neutrality issues, especially with mobile), how child protection filters are blocking some legitimate businesses, privacy and other consumer protection issues, cyber security, next gen broadband coverage, closing the digital divide and getting more innovative services (public and private sector) online.

@JamesFirth

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with you, we're in mad men land now! Obviously at some point, we will see the biggest grossing movie opening in global home theater (iTunes), the same day as in commercial theater, DVD release, and all other venues. The numbers that this movie will reach, will make today's movie look like junk. This could be achieved today, but no one in the movie business really cares about the movie art form, the movie fan, or creating a movie culture. How's that 3D thingy going for ya? Obvisouly, things have to get worse before they get better, if the recent music business story applies.

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