09 December 2012

Copyright Sanity Hits EU

The EU is looking at what amounts to a compulsory licensing regime for orphan copyrighted works:
The European Parliament has agreed to bless draft proposals on orphan works that are similar to a compulsory purchase order with minimal compensation.

It's essentially an argument about using other people's stuff without their permission.

In May last year, the European Commission floated proposals to allow the "non-commercial" use of works for which the author can't immediately be found, so long as they did a quick Google search first.

The UK's Parliament shot down similar proposals in 2010. But the European Parliament yesterday announced its support for the EC's draft, which includes the Get Out of Jail Free search requirement. It only obliges the user to pay the creator if they show up, and punitive damages won't be available. The draft is awaiting formal approval.
This is a very good thing.

Under the current copyright regime, neither the works of Shakespeare nor Herman Melville's masterwork Moby Dick would be generally available or even generally known.

Rights issues would have prevented the publication of the first folio (The Bard died without issue), and Moby Dick saw mass printing because it was out of copyright, and there was a revival of interest in Melville's work following the posthumous publication of Billy Budd.

Neither of these works would have been generally available without the public domain, and this sort of compulsory licensing is a good alternative.  (It is likely that the first folio would have been allowed to rot away, as are thousands of old films are at this moment)

Copyright is not about property, or is it about guaranteeing a revenue stream.  It is a law designed to promulgate the public interest by encouraging the creation of original art.

While this proposal may complicate licensing, there is no evidence that it will result in any significant reduction in the actual production of new works.

This might need some tweaking, but given the absolutist efforts of the content distributors, who will vociferously object to anything even vaguely resembling the public domain, or the right to fair use, an effort must made to pull the needle back to center, which requires overreach in the initial stages.


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