In recent blog posts and in public appearances, I have been beating the drum about the need for reform of US copyright laws to reflect the reality of how people use digital technology and create their own content. In the UK, that debate appears to be much farther along, as the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has released a white paper that does just that. I urge folks to read this – even though the law is slightly different across the pond, the cultural, economic and democratic values that IPPR's recommendations seek to preserve are not. This clearly is a very serious document – the foreword is written by Matthew Taylor, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's Chief Adviser on Strategy) at a time when the UK government is considering a comprehensive overhaul of its copyright laws.
IPPR recognizes the tension between the need to protect creativity and innovation for “wealth and jobs” and the need for openness and the sharing of information “to develop our intellectual and creative talents, discover new artists, create new businesses, forge alliances between academic and commercial institutions, and learn from one another.” Thus,
[k]nowledge, must, therefore, perform the roles of both commodity and social glue, both property and public domain.
IPPR notes that the current IP regime does not give value to openness, instead opting for stronger and stronger IP rights and that this has allowed rights holders to define (and limit) “fair dealing” (which is much like our “fair use”) and to rely upon restrictive contracts, licenses and DRM to enforce those rights.
As a result, IPPR calls for “balance” (sound familiar?) and urges a
progressive model of information policy, which recognizes the interests of the public first and foremost, and identifies what role IPR's [intellectual property rights] play in achieving that. This need not involve weakening existing rights, but means resisting calls to strengthen them and investing more actively in public domain information and content.
Balance, with the public interest “first and foremost,” is exactly what the founders of our nation had in mind when they gave Congress the power to “promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;” in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. And it is what Public Knowledge and its colleagues have advocated since the birth of the copyright reform movement. But there is little doubt that IPPR's call for a moratorium on the relentless strengthening of IPRs would be called radical (or more likely an invitation to rampant piracy) by the content industry and its supporters in Congress.
I'll end with Mr. Taylor's closing message to policymakers:
The authors' most important message is that government should foster a climate in which innovation is something all are capable of, and all are rewarded and recognized for. IP is central to this, wherever it adds to the…capacity to innovate. (Emphasis mine)