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February 03, 2011
Writing about web page http://www.nglis.org.uk/diary.htm
This event, led by Professor Charles Oppenheim, focused on two major challenges of the moment; copyright in the digital environment, particularly web 2.0 applications and the newly passed Digital Economy Act. The format of the presentation was very much discursive so below I've tried to pull out some of the important points. It is worth reiterating Prof. Oppenheim's disclaimer; he is not a lawyer (and nor am I!) and thus neither of us can take any responsibility for anything you may choose to do with the information reported here.
- Copyright law has not kept up with the development of the internet and is in many cases arcane and not 'fit for purpose'. However people are either very risk averse or far too free, a law that is either viewed with contempt and/or ignored by a whole generation is obviously not working. There are two reviews of copyright law under way; the Hargreaves Committee set up by David Cameron following discussions with Google and a House of Commons Select Committee. However very little can be done to amend copyright law in this country as we are subject to EU directives in this area.
- Crucial thing that distinguishes Web2.0 is the fact that it includes an element of participation/interaction, this is where it causes issues in terms of copyright. In copyright law any item that is authored by multiple people (and it is impossible to distinguish who has written what) and you wish to copy it you must clear the copyright will all authors. In the case of Web2.0 just identifying the authors can be a struggle and if even one of the authors refuses permission you can not use the item. Wikipedia gets round this by asking all contributors to sign up to T&Cs that means that they assign copyright to Wikipedia and thus copyright is cleared through a single source. Worth considering if you are planning to create a wiki!
- When asking for permission to copy; No means no, Yes means yes and No reply means no! In law you cannot just say "Unless I hear otherwise I'll go ahead...", hence the problem people have had with the Google Books project. The issue of orphan works is also important here, this was meant to be addressed in the Digital Economy Act but that section was cut. This is an increasing problem due to the rising number of digitisation projects under way and with the desire to make archive material publicly available.
- The area where the internet gets people in trouble with copyright law is the protection copyright gives from the 'communication to the public', which means electronic communication to two or more people. Copyright also does not allow for 'format shifting', an essential area in terms of digital preservation, another indication it is not fit for purpose.
- The Digital Economy Act (DEA), which was passed in wash-up, has some very concerning provisions for Libraries and other services that offer free wi-fi access. The idea is for there to be a 'three-strikes' rule on the infringement of copyright, on the third infringement a persons internet access is stopped. Obviously this is more of a problem when it does not target individuals but libraries or local authorities! The Act has been passed but not currently implemented. The current government has made a commitment to maintain the law but when Nick Clegg asked people for the list of the laws they would most like to see repealed the DEA came top. The Act is currently undergoing a judicial review, bought by two of the country's top ISPs, to verify if the Act is even legal in its current form.
- 'Cloud computing' was another area discussed, in this case more in the terms of the Data Protection Act. While is very useful and valuable development in terms of technology if you are planning to take advantage of it to hold personal data you need to be aware that this could cause you to violate data protection. This is because under data protection you make the commitment to ensure that anyone you contract to or sub-contract to also have adequate data protection provisions/laws. Therefore as the US is not deemed to have good enough data protection laws if you contract an American cloud service to hold anything to do with personal information you have violated data protection. This is a problem with a number of countries and the fact that if you start trying to limit the geographical location of your data you are no longer getting the advantage of hosting it in the cloud in for first place.
All this was covered and much more, a very interesting evening and much food for thought! Although it was nice to hear that I'm not the only person who thinks that the current copyright law we have needs throwing out and people need to start again with a blank sheet of paper rather than constantly trying to amend a broken law. But in the light of the issues with the internet and the kind of global information flows we are currently seeing any new law has to be agreed and applied globally, focussing on the needs of everyone trying to use the information rather than just protecting commercial interests.