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Panpa Bulletin : July 2006
Will copyright issues play a major role in online newspapers asks John Howkins? If newspapers didn't ex- ist would anyone invent them? Let's assume some bright spark from Adelaide had the idea of publishing a print version of an online news serv- ice. What would it look like? Would it be pocket-size or screen-size or even bigger? Would it be free, as a loss leader for the online service, or would our Adelaide avatar risk a cover price? If so, would he or she ask people to pay by subscription, as they do online, or for single copies? Would anyone want to advertise? Would he try to prevent peo- ple copying it or would he want as many people to read it, copy it, share it and pass it on? If he wanted exclusive ownership rights, would he prefer his cop- yright to be based on the exist- ing broadcasting, webcasting or multimedia rights? Or would he lobby the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in Geneva for a brand-new 'print' right? Put this way, the attempts to transfer the principle of print publishing to online services seem an uphill struggle. When we switch from online to print, or vice versa, we are playing a game with different rules. The basic words and pic- tures continue to be treated as literary and artistic works un- der the 1968 Copyright Act and the global Berne Convention whether written in newsprint or a screen. But the further they trans- mute from static, analogue material to computer code the more they are liable to be caught by new rules and new consumer expectations. Copyright law was invented to regulate a business-to-busi- ness problem. Only businesses could afford the technology of copying. Today, anyone who has a computer can also pub- lish. Today, home copying is not an added extra; it is the essence of all media. We all take delight in copy- ing what we see on the web for our own purposes. At least I do. I seldom make illegal copies of music but I frequently copy text illegally. Although the world's govern- ments agreed in the early 1990s that most incidental copying is permissible (such as into a short-term memory cache) al- most everything else is not. Transmitting data from one hard disc to another is illegal. The Australian government an- nounced in May that it would like to allow people to copy ma- terial that they had already paid for but the details are still to be worked out. So far newspaper publish- ers have taken a benign view of home copying compared to the music and film industries which see a direct threat to their liveli- hood, but for how long? Book publishers are much tougher. Back in the 1990s a New York court forced Kinko copy shops to pay about $2 mil- lion for copying 12 textbooks. The government's new propos- als would still forbid companies like Kinko (say, an ISP or a con- tent aggregator) from copying material on behalf of other peo- ple. The possibilities multiply as the Internet, wireless networks and podcasting evolve. Take any company strategy and substitute the words 'user', 'viewer', 'consumer' or 'audi- ence' for 'reader' and one sees the scale of the problem. We wear many different hats, of- ten in the same day. With each one we have different expecta- tions about access and price, about consumer protection and about what can and cannot be copied. The Rip-Mix-and-Burn gen- eration takes pride and joy in getting, sharing and using digit- al material. A whole generation of people has grown up which expects to get material for free and to copy it and share it. It is partly done because it is fun. But it is still a matter of law. The best laws are the ones where the authorities and the public share a common un- derstanding about what can and can- not be copied. At the moment, it's fair to say that the laws are a long way behind what is techni- cally possible and what is actu- ally happening. It's also true that at the moment nobody is suffering much. But before the law and prac- tice get too far apart it would be sensible to plot a new con- sensus for where we want to be in five years time. That was why an international group of experts got together recently to draft the Adelphi Charter on Creativity, Innovation and In- tellectual Property (www.adel- phicharter.org). We wanted to propose a 'public interest' test for IP policy. Some people think the best way forward is to tighten the screws, make copyright protec- tion stronger and punish every infringement. Others suggest looser rules, allowing greater access. The first favours rights hold- ers who want to maximise in- come. The second recognises the much larger numbers of people who want access to in- formation. Based on the success of Europe's free 'metro' newspa- pers which favour information over opinion and the success of free online services and pod- casts, the second strategy seems more attractive. Strengthening the law to pro- tect current material may seem obvious but the result could be that a lot of material that has no commercial value but which people would enjoy using if it were free would be locked away. A better strategy is to bring copying into the mainstream of the business. John howkins is currently director of the equator Group plc, a film company listed on the london aIM market, and other companies creating and dealing in copyrights. he is the director of the adelphi Charter and originator of the london ‘own It’ IP advisory centre. he had the idea for the charter in 2003. Copy cat, you dirty rat The Rip-Mix-and-Burn generation takes pride and joy in getting, sharing and using digital material. A whole generation of people has grown up which expects to get material for free and to copy it and share it. It is partly done because it is fun. C July 2006 PANPA BULLETIN | 39