Copyright reform better resolved at European level
The Copyright Review Committee’s report needs to be considered in the context of an EU-wide discussion
“The loosening of copyright through the introduction of a broad range of ill-defined exceptions will inevitably lead to uncertainty and lack of clarity in our copyright legislation.”
Internationally, traditional concepts of copyright are in crisis. Rights holders believe they have been left defenceless against digital piracy; and content creators such as authors and composers see their incomes disappearing as traditional business models collapse. Meanwhile, many digital users argue that the fact that existing copyright law is being so widely flouted merely reflects the fact that the current legislative structure is outmoded and unfit for purpose.
This afternoon at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin, Eoin O’Dell will formally present the report of the Copyright Review Committee that he has chaired for the last 2½ years. The report, which was published in full some weeks ago, is the culmination of a lengthy process undertaken by Dr O’Dell and his colleagues on the committee, who were tasked in May 2011 by Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton with recommending changes and reforms in existing legislation in order to “remove barriers to innovation” – wording that has been seen from the outset in some quarters as loaded towards a particular preferred outcome.
In the course of its work, the committee sought submissions from interested parties on all sides of what is an increasingly fractious debate about the purposes and limitations of copyright law in the digital age. It’s a debate that runs parallel to, and sometimes intersects with, other controversial issues such as data privacy, defamation and the limits of free speech in an era when technological innovation has irreversibly disrupted traditional ground rules around publishing, broadcasting and other modes of production and distribution.
The final report summarises the various stakeholders’ positions, and offers proposed wording for a draft Bill to implement copyright reform. These proposals include the establishment of a self-funded copyright council to educate, advise and provide a voluntary dispute resolution service, along with the establishment of a dedicated specialist IP court at Circuit Court level.
Inevitably, perhaps, the consultation process ended up broadly dividing into two opposing camps: on the one hand, the “traditional” content-creating industries such as book publishers, newspapers and record companies. On the other, companies such as Google, whose business model is based not on creating content but on what the final report calls the “marshalling” of existing content around the web.
Many of the committee’s proposals make perfect sense. A controversy arose earlier this year, for example, relating to people’s right to link to Irish newspaper websites. The committee’s report correctly characterises links as the fundamental binding which underpins the entire online world, and recommends that linking should not infringe copyright.
Unfortunately, though, it goes on to recommend that such links may be accompanied by an extract, “where the text extract is no more than 2½ per cent of the total number of words in the work, or no more than 160 characters and no more than 40 words”. No rationale is given for these measurements.