Stationers’ IPso FACTo debate part of IP project
What has copyright ever done for us?
By Aislinn O’Connell, Stationers’ Copyright Bursary Student
On Monday, 17th June, I had the privilege of attending a debate, cleverly entitled IPso FACTo, hosted by the Stationers Copyright and IP Project. The debate was chaired by Philip Walters MBE and featured Sarah Faulder and David Worlock arguing for and against, nominally. The pointer questions posed were:
- What has copyright ever done for us?
- Is copyright an inhibitor or an enabler culturally?
- Are there interesting commercial solutions to this?
- By defending copyright, do we, paradoxically, collude in its destruction?
While both sides ably put forward their arguments, with Faulder arguing that copyright is the essential underpinning driving economic growth and innovation, and Worlock advocating a more data-focussed approach, the overriding opinion in the room was that copyright as a mechanism is not broken, just slow to catch up with the digital revolution.
One cannot help but feel, however, that a room full of people whose businesses and livelihoods are built on the existing model of copyright will not be the first to declare it broken and scrap it for a new model of rights. The concept held dear by many digital natives, that information is or should be free, was not one which was particularly supported by the guests present. However, one must bow to the years of experience assembled in the room and accept that the free dissemination of works which require time and effort to produce, while an admirable notion, is not one which is particularly economically sound. Once one accepts that the prevailing attitude in the room was to adapt, not abolish, the existing copyright model, some interesting points were raised.
Perhaps the most entertaining point was that raised by Clive Bradley CBE. A long-time colleague of Worlock, his impassioned defence of copyright as a method of remunerating content creators certainly gave one pause for thought. His pragmatic approach was refreshing to listen to.
The points were also made that also noted that paywalls are becoming less effective as the industry struggles to keep up with the users. Paywalls and other systems of payment can reduce userbases and income – this paints a worrying picture for the future. The fact is, nobody has created a viable alternative to copyright, and thus it is alarming to think that the current model is not working – this assertion is not backed up by statistical analysis, but the fact is, the average person infringing copyright is not a large-scale content thief, but an everyday user. The pervasive breaching of copyright is a sign that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.”
One of the most pertinent points which I felt came from the evening’s discussion was the assertion that publishers need to present a better view of what it is they do. While the notion persists that publishers are merely a middleman hiking up costs but not adding value, consumers will resent the extra price. The essential function of the publisher is adding value to content – this needs to be communicated to consumers. The value-add of publishers is what makes their existence viable.
The truth of the matter is that the future is already here. Publishers are playing a game of catch-up and they’re at a distinct disadvantage behind the digital natives. The Stationers have lasted for centuries, from burning unauthorised books to establishing the concept of copyright some three hundred years ago. The notion of adaptation and reinvention is not a new or unusual challenge for anyone. While it was perhaps a little disappointing that the room was firmly in agreement on the basic functionality of copyright, it was nonetheless an entertaining and engaging debate.