Sometimes it takes me a while to feel as if I understand an issue. Especially one that involves the digital world.
When I’m trying to get my head around something I try to take it back to a principle. Is it fair? Who to? Is it too complex? Will it work? Is it fostering innovation and creativity? Is it where we want to be heading?
Copyright is one of those issues.
Copyright in 2010, has become a brand, or a code. The prevalence of illegal downloading both in NZ and globally is a very real and important issue. The balancing act between protecting the rights of creators of content and allowing and encouraging access to information and material is a delicate and increasingly tricky issue which is currently exercising the minds of parliaments across the world.
Intellectual property, who owns it, who should have access, how they should have that access and what should be the penalties for infringing the rules around that access are all very live issues being hotly debated.
There’s a bunch of international treaties and agreements currently being negotiated where intellectual property features large. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and more recently the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) are just two. There is intensive lobbying going on, driven largely from the US.
It seems that the big elephant in the room is who’s interests are being served.
I’ve just come across this piece on The Hill which could cast some light on what is really going on behind the scenes.
Three key US tech industry groups have urged a rethink on the US position on ACTA. The Consumer Electronics Association, TechAmerica and the Computer & Communications Industry Association plan to oppose the current draft of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement.
Though the groups favor copyright enforcement, they worry the agreement will not include copyright exemptions that currently benefit some technology companies under American law.
The agreement may lack a “fair use” standard that allows using copyrighted content in limited circumstances. Google, for instance, relies on this exemption to store Web content in its search engine memory.
Wikipedia defines “Fair use” as a doctrine in United States copyright law that allows limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the rights holders, such as for commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching or scholarship.
The lack of “fair use” could make American tech companies vulnerable to repercussions abroad, these groups say.
“We would expect the administration to be as concerned as we are about the existing trend of foreign countries imposing unjustified civil and criminal liability on U.S. technology companies and their executives,” the groups wrote.
ACTA has drawn widespread criticism as serving corporate interests. So just who are these corporate interests? Who do they serve and why do they have so much influence? And what principles do those interests serve?
And does our government really understand these issues?
In the Commerce Select Committee on Thursday I asked Commerce Minister Simon Power whether the government was considering a wider review of copyright issues in the light of all the controversy around Section 92A. “No” was the response. They just want their re-write of S92A passed.
I think that’s short-sighted. And not serving the interests of NZ creators and our emerging digital industry. As well as the public interest.
Hat tip @Tom_Watson