The ancient pile at the end of Ave Maria Lane which houses that most resplendent of City of London livery companies, the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, rang out last night with the gladsome cries and throaty gurgles of the media market makers toasting the launch of yet another book. But this one is entitled “Copyright in a Digital Age”, and reflects the website contributions to a debate on the subject, convened and wonderfully edited by Trevor Fenwick and Ian Locks, who are owed at the very least a Sung Eucharist in this High Church of Copyright belief. I recommend you read it, either online at, or by ordering it in print from that site. I shall not review it here, in part because I contributed, but I recommend in it a good summary of where we are from Clive Bradley, and a typically thoughtful piece from Mark Bide and Alicia Wise. The other reason why I cannot review it is an increasing impatience with the inability of the media to accept the obvious, or act coherently. Sitting in the open forum after the launch, while listening to James Murdoch (he is in the book too) keynote the issues, I could only speculate about how much of the present media marketplace must disappear in the next decade to allow a networked media world to emerge. Before I sank into a gentle doze, only to be awakened by the chairman reading out the question I had submitted for the panel discussion (thank goodness he did not ask if I had remembered it) I had settled on sixty per cent.

And upon the idea that this is a very simple issue, this copyright thing, or so complex it should be handed over to the Vatican for resolution sometime in the next thousand years. I incline to the former. Here is a point by point take on the issue, specially included for the kindly reader who tells me that this column is “tolerable, even though written in paragraphs”. Here are my points:

* Intellectual property theft is endemic in human society and has been since the first cave drawings.

* Copyright is an invention of the Statute of Anne of 1710, to protect the economic rights of a group of individuals in quite specific circumstances.

* All citizens should be able to assert their ownership of the expression of ideas (though not the ideas themselves) and have the right to ensure that those expressions are limited to media where they can be wholly safe-guarded, should such media have ever existed.

* All citizens have the moral right to be identified with works which they created, and these rights are immutable.

* The internet was created for the active passage of such works – “content” – to places where this material could be utilized. If you do not wish your content to be used in that context, and to drop out of the active use of the network, then you have a right to put your content into the dark web behind a paywall – and risk  it being ignored. Your choice.

* If the answer to the machine lies in the machine, we would all set up implied licensing schemes, charge users a micro-cent per access, give all power to the collection societies and back up our will with a set of international treaties. Maybe we will, and certainly we should, but it sounds like a daunting task to me.

* Meanwhile, most who write originally in the network do so for  reasons other than a flow of micropayments from a network debit card. Reputation, peer esteem, marketing, creating other income flows (like providing content to attach to advertising – as newspapers do in print) are all good reasons for writing on the Web, or in a scholarly journal, or elsewhere.

* Finally, the network lets those who want to do any of these things perfect scope to do them. Customers are seldom wrong, business models almost always are. Study the music industry closely. And remember that is is the customers who will decide in the end, not the producers.

As we left the hall, we were reminded that the UK government has set up yet another enquiry into copyright. Apparently, ministers are appalled to hear that our laws are so tough in the UK that Google could not have been borne amongst these dark, satanic mills. Swords will not sleep nor chariots of fire be doused until this has been corrected (sounds like another sop to the LibDems to me – “give them copyright and we can do what we like in Europe”). But amongst all this classic theological futility, we forget the one thing that is worth protecting. As content becomes more commoditized (eg heavily reproduced and widely available) it is the metadata which tells us what it is, what it relates to, often what it means, where  it came from etc etc. This must be protected. This is where the real network investment is being made. And we are on a value track here. Over time this metadata itself will become more available, and we shall add more value to create new things to protect – the thesauri, taxonomies and ontologies which provide the intelligent adhesive that allows this sea of content to be reshaped and recreated time and again. We did once pass a European Directive on the Legal Protection of Databases to accomplish this, though it never got a mention in Ave Maria Lane. I would have raised a glass to that!


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  1. Tweets that mention David Worlock | Developing digital strategies for the information marketplace | Supporting the migration of information providers and content players into the networked services world of the future. -- on November 10, 2010 13:26

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by adamhodgkin, Alex Boden and TimHitchcock, JohnMNBarnes. JohnMNBarnes said: RT @dworlock: Copyright Ave Maria , or where did the debate on protecting content go so badly wrong […]