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Copyright is a body of inconsistent, ad-hoc arrangements to regulate markets

March 16th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

I am truly appalled at the digital economy bill now being rushed through the UK parliament.

The bill includes a three strikes rule to cut off internet access for alleged file sharers – which according the Guardian newspaper “could suspend the broadband connections used by anybody accused of file sharing three times whether or not they are convicted of copyright infringement.”

The Guardian also reports that “the notorious Clause 17 – which has now had its scope diminished – had proposed to give the secretary of state the power to update copyright law without parliamentary assent.”

They go on to say “the Liberal Democrats caused uproar when they proposed an amendment to the bill apparently aimed at bringing more judicial oversight into the system – but that critics could end up shutting down major websites such as YouTube.”

“The change – which gives the high court the power to shut down entire websites if they host “substantial” amounts of copyright infringing material – came in for strong criticism, particularly after it emerged that the language used was identical to a proposal by British music industry body the BPI.”

In a blog entitled “The Day Democracy Died“, Lilian Edwards, a specialist in online law said:

This is simply disgraceful. It is law making by industry, for industry, on the nod of all three major political parties (and against the grassroots sentiment of at least one of them). This is no longer just about copyright, or downloading, or even freedom of speeech and due process. It is about democracy, and whether this country is run by MPs or by lobbyists and Big Capital. It is a day when as a democrat, and a lawyer, (and not as a “copyright activist” as one commenter wrongly called me – I believe in copyright, I just don’t believe in destroying the legal system to enforce it) ) I am deeply , deeply disappointed.

This law raises series issues for education. In a paper entitled “What is the significance of Open Source Software for the education and training community?” and written in 2005 (I think) i said the issue of sharing raises important social issues over ownership and content. I quoted Dai Griffith who addressed some of these issues at the open session of the June 2004 SIGOSSEE project meeting in Limerick on Open Source software in education.

He argued that the Web has changed the technology for publishing and that the publishing industry and legal framework is responding by seeking to reinforce the existing structures. The way they are doing this is by promoting the metaphor of ideas as property as ‘Intellectual property’. This metaphor says:

  • An idea is an object
  • Copyright is property
  • Reuse of an idea is theft

Dai Griffiths rejected this metaphor. He asked how do you know if someone “steals” your copyright materials? Copyright infringement is illegal, he said, but it is not theft, pointing out there was art, music and literature before copyright. Copyright is a limited monopoly granted by the state. It is important, but it is not an inalienable right.

Copyright is a body of inconsistent, ad-hoc arrangements to regulate markets. Dai Griffiths argued that copyright should benefit the citizen, not the author or the publisher. He quoted the US House of Representatives report on the Berne Convention:

“The constitutional purpose of copyright is to facilitate the flow of ideas in the interest of learning.”… The primary objective of our copyright laws is not to reward the author, but rather to secure for the public the benefits from the creations of authors”

(Implementation Act of 1988, cited in LR Patterson & SW Lindberg, The Nature of Copyright 1991).

I would argue that the primary objective of the digital economy bill is not to reward the author, nor to secure for the public the benefits from the creations of authors, but to secure the interests of an outdated, self seeking and degenerate industry. They are not interested in music, they are not interested in film, they are not interested in literature, the are not interested in art, they are not interested in learning, they only care for their profits. This bill has nothing to do with the digital economy – it is about reinforcing copyright. Shame on our politicians for supporting them.

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