The Hargreaves Report and copyright law in the UK

Last Wednesday (18 May), Professor Ian Hargreaves of Cardiff University published his review, commissioned by Prime Minister Cameron, of copyright law in the digital age.

The Hargreaves Report, by comment consent, recommended some much-needed changes but falls short of the ‘radical overhaul’ of copyright law demanded by many. Similar to the way the 2010 Digital Economy Act was concerned largely with targeting illegal digital downloads, the focus of the report is on protecting the intellectual property of  the copyright holder (the traditional approach) rather than offering ways that incorporate the idea of fair use, which would require new, innovative models.

Fair use is where significant portions of a work can be replicated without permission as long as the work or reputation of the copyright holder is not denigrated.

For example, I would’ve liked to have used a snippet from a Beatles song called I’ll Follow the Sun for – not surprisingly – our recent e-learning conference. The snippet is available on Wikipedia. When you further investigate the licensing, you’ll find that it’s been uploaded because it qualifies under the US fair use laws. But we don’t have a similar law in the UK, so I didn’t use the song, although clearly my intent was not malicious. The Hargreaves Report looks set to ensure this continues. 

That said, the Hargreaves Report does make a number of useful suggestions for UK copyright law:

  • legalising the practice of copying music and films for personal use (i.e. allowing the consumer to choose his or her media format)
  • the creation of a Digital Copyright Exchange for orphaned works whose copyright holder cannot be established
  • relaxing the laws on parody (see for example the Newport State of Mind video)

Having flexible, fair and transparent copyright laws in the UK is vital if open educational resources are to become as mainstream here as many would like. These laws have to include fair use. President Obama’s announcement in January of a $2 billion fund is an acknowledgement of how central OERs are likely to become in education.

This week, Net pioneers led by Mark Zuckerberg and Eric Schmidt have been lobbying the G8 summit in Paris against increasing attempts to regulate the Internet and especially the Web. Central to this has been the thorny issue of intellectual property.

But when it comes to copyright law, the traditional approach consistently trumps any innovative model. At least in the UK and EU, which is in the process of updating its intellectual property laws in a way that may make even the modest loosening up recommended by Hargreaves difficult to enact, that doesn’t seem likely to change in the near future.

Simon Kear

Keeper of the Media Zoo

Loosening the UK copyright laws: has the time come?

Speaking recently at an event in London, PM David Cameron made the point that intellectual property laws are to be reviewed to “make them fit for the Internet age“.

The six-month review will look at the American model, and see what the UK can learn about using copyrighted material “without the rights holder’s permission”.

This is interesting, especially in the light of the recent – and fairly draconian – Digital Economy Bill (DEB).

It’s possible this is the first salvo in a policy that realises and accepts that new models of commerce must be produced for the Internet age. And part of this needs to be a reassessment of copyright itself, and particularly what “fair use” means today and might in the future.

Cameron seems to be suggesting that the lock-downs of DEB-type legislation are not conducive to economic growth. I don’t think I could argue with that.

As a result of the OTTER OER project here at the Beyond Distance Research Alliance, and the knowledge and experience of the University’s Copyright Officer and honorary OTTER, Tania Rowlett, we all have a much clearer understanding of these issues.

However, I’m aware that sometimes our enthusiasm in support of openness paints those opposed to loosening copyright in a bad light. This is unfair.

Take, for example, the academic publishing industry, one of the fiercest protectors of the principle of copyright. This industry has used a commercial production model that has worked extremely well since Gutenberg first developed his printing press around 1440. Yet now, in the space of probably less than a decade the revenue-generating potential of this model has come under threat from the technological revolution that Web 2.0 publishing has unleashed.

The fact that I’ve linked to Wikipedia – a free source of knowledge or information as some might argue – in the preceding sentence is a perfect example of this. If I still worked in publishing, I wouldn’t sleep very well either.

But download one of the Open University’s 100+ free interactive ebooks  – in my case, to my iPad … of course! – available through iTunes U to see what technology allows us to do. The new digital world can’t be all that bad for publishers. 

However, there does come a moment in human history when change has to be accepted and absorbed. The Prime Minister’s announcement may well be one of these moments for us in the UK.

If the dam is broken, it’s not worth throwing sandbags at it. Far better that the cascading waters are diverted, channelled and controlled to benefit everyone.

Simon Kear

Keeper of the Media Zoo

Now is the time to remove the highway tolls

While passing a radio a week ago, I heard that Swindon – a town in the UK – will be offering free wireless broadband for all its 186,000 residents. Several days later, my colleague David Hawkridge mentioned that, while not free, Finland  (and Spain) will make affordably priced broadband of 1 Mpbs available to every citizen by 2011.

For a number of years now, Singapore, where an excellent telecommunications market exists largely as a result of government strategy, has forged ahead in terms of broadband access. Intelligent Nation 2015 will ensure that, by 2010, virtually every citizen will have high-speed broadband access.

Here in the UK, and following on from the Digital Britain White Paper published in June 2009, the Digital Economy Bill promises a universally available broadband service in the UK by 2012 achieved through a public fund.

Whether it’s the free model of Swindon or the market-manipulated Singaporean example, one fact is inescapable: for a state, institution or individual to realise its full potential, online access is crucial.

For educators in the UK, where many of our work-based, part-time, distance learning students do not have access to the stable on-campus Janet network, this is even more important.

I very much hope the new bill achieves what it claims it will (or rather that its clear desire to concentrate on copyright infringers allows it the time to do so).  

Because this is where  true innovation is needed. One can only imagine how society would benefit if online access were as free, easy and second nature as breathing. For me, the benefits to a state of having universal broadband access far outweigh any cost of subsidising this access.

In a gold rush, those who sell the pick axes and pans make the fortunes, and only rarely do those who use the tools to dig out the gold. As a taxpayer, I’d much rather ensure the tools – primarily the broadband access – were freely available so that everyone could get at the ‘gold’ of the Internet.

Can the free market model do this? I doubt it very much – it couldn’t save the bankers. That job fell to the state and the taxpayers.

Simon Kear

Learning Technologist

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