Copyright: Enabling or Restricting Creativity?

Yesterday I went up to London for the annual Publishers Licensing Society Copyright Briefing and Open Meeting.  While the topic of copyright is perhaps not the most exciting, the day proved to be really interesting and it was particularly helpful to meet other young publishers who also work on rights and contracts like I do.

Richard Balkwill gave a thought-provoking presentation on the topic “Copyright: enabling or restricting creativity in the digital age”.  A few of the points raised and subjects to ponder on included:

  • Technology is roaring ahead and legislation is struggling to keep up.
  • Copyright is based on national law, but most information exchange is international.
  • The music industry is not an example to follow where digitalisation is concerned.
  • Google wants to “unlock the knowledge of the world”.  This paints publishers as janitors.
  • If publicly-funded research should be free, then why aren’t the London 2012 Olympics free?

Talks in the afternoon included David Lancefield explaining the economic importance of copyright and Hazel Woodward speaking on enhancing collaboration between publishers and librarians.  David spoke about how copyright is often perceived as a barrier to growth and how people want free content, but they also want quality, and the two often do not go hand in hand.  He backed up his argument that copyright payments have a big impact on low-paid content creators with several interesting statistics based on educational publishing.

He stated that secondary copyright fees represent 18% of an educational author’s income, but only 0.03% of a school’s cost base. A 20% fall in income for educational authors might result in 2870 educational works lost per year (Source: ALCS survey).  Educational publishers in the UK employ 9400 workers and make £1.2 million exchequer contributions each year.  The proposed copyright reforms could put the long-term sustainability of a value industry at risk.  We need to consider access versus innovation and investment.

While a lot of the topics covered during the day were not necessarily linked to what I do in my job, it was interesting to get a broader picture of the copyright issues that affect all sorts of authors and publishers.


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