Saturday 24th July, (despite being my sixth wedding anniversary!), I attended a workshop on the current challenges of Copyright and Digital Rights. The workshop was organised by the Open Rights Group, a non-for-profit organisation which promotes and defends freedom of expression, privacy, innovation, consumers’ rights, and creativity on the net. You can read more about them here: http://www.openrightsgroup.org/about
The day was structured between a series of presentations and small group discussions. Topics of debate included the new English Digital Economy Act, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), and the movement of Open Access Data.
From the programme I believe that our readers will be mostly interested in Professor Boyle’s presentation on the shrinking of the public domain, and the discussion on open data and access to information led by the Open Knowledge Foundation Network (OKFN). I think the discussion on ACTA could have been very interesting if more information and facts had been given – a lot of discussion was around the fact that the Act needs to be changed even though nobody is fully certain about its precise content which is still (more or less) secret!
Professor Boyle rightly argued that we currently live in a paradox: despite the fact that we generate more and more information and knowledge that enables us to be more creative and innovative, we are moving towards stricter controls to protect such information and knowledge. Instead of letting it free, we are locking it away. Most jurisdictions have seen an ongoing stretch of the duration of copyright, from 28 years (renewable possibly for another 28 years’ period) to author’s life + 70 years, which seems to go against the original principle of promoting culture through innovation.
The decision of not dealing seriously and practically with the problem of “orphan works” is another symptom of this general over-protection of authors to the detriment of users. In this atmosphere of vagueness and uncertainty, Professor Boyle praised Creative Commons for providing a simple solution to the complexities of copyright, and urged for a real harmonisation of the exceptions, namely the situations which would not amount to breach of copyright (e.g. fair-use)
Professor Boyle gave a very similar presentation at UC Davies and which can seen on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OInGKMc1Wo
The Open Data discussion focused on the importance of keeping data freely and easily accessible and usable. Some reasons given included: such data is most of the time generated through public funding, that information which is already available in the first place cannot be locked away, and that the more openly and freely information circulates, the more additional information and knowledge is generated.
I felt that the session was quite good but that a lot of collateral issues ought to have discussed, or at least touched on if time was a constraint. For example, what happens if data has been generated using funding from the private sector as well? Is it really easy to distinguish it from confidential and/or sensitive data? Should a debate on releasing as opposed to sharing data also be tabled? What is the reality as to what data releasers want users to be able to do? (Copying in part? In full? Download and modify?). Perhaps the OKFN does not have enough experience within the area of genetic material and access & benefit sharing, as there are a lot of concerns (possibly unfounded) like biopiracy which can be a real obstacles to the openness and sharing of data. I hope there will be other occasions in the future to address all these questions with the OKFN.
Many thanks to Joe (McNamee, Advisor to the European Digital Rights) who invited me to the event!
Post written by Francesca Re Manning of CAS-IP