A few things coalesced for me today. For a start Alan Cann sent me a link to this video on Boing Boing. It's a remix of Rip! Brett Gaylor's documentary on remixing and copyright, and makes the point about the ludicrous nature of copyright very well. The essential argument is that copyright is now used to prevent creativity, not protect the creators. It is a control mechanism. The culture clashes it reveals are truly revealing (the chap in the interview with Chuck D is like some nasty Hollywood villain), and this culture clash is fundamental in how our society develops.
Secondly, John Naughton gave a seminar on Zittrain's The Future of the Net at the Open University. I couldn't make it, but Doug live-blogged it here. The book is about how the Net could be locked down, and controlled, because this seems like a logical thing to do against the uncertainty of an unknowable, open future.
Thirdly, I've had the audio pulled from yet another of my YouTube videos, with the ominous statement "This video contains an audio track that has not been authorised by WMG. The audio has been disabled". The track was by Death Cab for Cutie and I know a few people have discovered the band because of the video – so the argument that they are protecting the artist doesn't stand up.
Fourthly, I've been involved in some course production, and the rights clearance is always a tortuous issue – even to include one of my own articles in the course.
Lastly, WriteToReply put up the latest output from the Digital Britain Report, a proposal to create a Digital Rights Agency. The proposal says some good things:
"In the old
analogue and physical world a lot of the value in creative content is
protected by restricting where and when it can be accessed.…But that model is increasingly irrelevant online. "
But then it rather lacks the strength of its own convictions and concentrates on how we might enforce copyright, and starts throwing in heavy threats:
"we set out a narrowly drawn legislative proposal to
reduce significantly unlawful P2P activity. This should be seen as
complementary to a rights agency that delivers a robust self-regulatory
framework, including action to prevent and reduce online piracy. This
should make a real difference. However, it has to be made to work by
the industry participants,…But the Government‟s objective of
significantly reducing the level of online copyright infringement, and
in particular unlawful P2P file-sharing (of which we set ourselves a
target last year to achieve that reduction within 2 to 3 years), should
not be doubted."
I read this as 'If the ISPs don't play ball we'll get really tough'. This is about control again, not about creating the environment for a digital economy where reuse and remixing is seen as the lifeblood. Perhaps most telling is the Wordle of the document:
Which has led me to consider the role of universities in all this. We are on the whole very subservient about copyright. We always go along with the rights holders, even if they want to charge exorbitant fees for content. But if we view this as one of the major struggles of modern society then shouldn't universities take the side of social justice? They should at least have a position that is more thought out than 'we do what they tell us'. It may be that they do agree with the current enforcement of copyright as a social and creative good. I'd disagree but at least they are taking a side. I would prefer to think that they take an informed role in promoting openness. This doesn't mean straightforward piracy, but rather the promotion of creativity, knowledge generation, and sharing. So, their ultimate response may be a rather nuanced one 'we support X, under these conditions, but not Y'.
But it may require them to be brave, and not be bullied by copyright lawyers, to take a moral, and social, stand on these issues. At the moment, I think most universities are still in the traditional mindset and they feel that their role is to exhibit the utmost caution in regard to copyright. But this is no longer a side issue and as reuse and copyright take centre stage, universities may need to rediscover some of their old backbone and calling for a noble cause. Make no mistake – this will be a real battle and those who want to maintain copyright as control will get vicious. Simply going along with them will have moral implications.