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At the end of March I was invited speaker at a workshop on “Balancing Intellectual Property Claims and the Freedom of Art and Communication” at Bielefeld University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research (ZiF). My talk was mainly based upon thoughts sketched out in two posts from the series on “Algorithm Regulation” on this blog:
- Algorithm Regulation #9: YouTube and the Comeback of Copyright Registration
- Algorithm Regulation #10: YouTube as a Transnational Rights Clearing Center
In the end, nothing happened. When the European parliament adopted a compromise version of MEP Julia Reda’s evaluation report of the EU copyright directive, the attempt of MEP Jean-Marie Cavada to restrict the right to publish pictures of buildings and artworks permanently installed in public places (“freedom of panorama”) was voted down by a huge margin. The majority that had supported the Cavada amendment in the legal affairs committee vanished under a storm of protest, spearheaded by Wikipedians fighting for their right to include pictures of buildings and artworks in their free encyclopedia.
However, while the final version of the report did not suggest restricting freedom of panorama, it did not include a specific provision to protect it, either. Instead, member countries would still be free in whether and how to implement such a limitation into their respective national copyright laws. In a way, this outcome is a typical example of the widespread copyright extremism in Europe, which blocks even the most sensible and moderate copyright reform proposals.
The overall spectrum of opinions in current copyright debates ranges from abolitionism, that is, proposals to discard copyright altogether, to copyright extremism on the other side. Copyright abolitionism is a position sparsely mentioned in regulatory conversations. While authors Joost Smiers and Marieke van Schindel, for instance, have managed to create some buzz around their book “No Copyright”, the attention was only short-lived and the discussion left no real lasting mark on the conversation overall. And abolitionist positions brought forward by libertarian researchers such as Michele Boldrin, David K. Levine and their colleagues have only played a very marginal role in scientific discourse, as well.
However, we observe that rhetoric around ratcheting up extreme copyright protections plays a major role in the mainstream of regulatory conversations around copyright, while rarely recognized and called out as extremism. Rather, even the most far reaching positions are considered perfectly legitimate when brought forward in committee hearings, policy papers or campaigns. In a way, current copyright discourse is heavily skewed towards the side of copyright extremism, which makes any moderate and balanced reform of copyright laws difficult, if not impossible. Taking a closer look at the relentless rhetoric of copyright extremism might therefore help to identify and address this problem.
In the series “algorithm regulation”, we discuss the implications of the growing importance of technological algorithms as a means of regulation in the digital realm.
The most important international copyright treaty, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, is quite clear with regard to registration requirements for copyright protection in its Article 5 (2)
“The enjoyment and the exercise of these rights shall not be subject to any formality”
In other words, for the 168 countries covered by the Berne Convention, registration provisions are not an option.* In the digital era, this ban is unfortunate for a number of reasons: Read the rest of this entry »
Recently Google announced an extension to its “Transparency Report“, which now also includes a section on requests to remove search results that link to material that allegedly infringes copyrights. Last month, Google processed 1,294,762 copyright removal requests by 1,109 reporting organizations, representing 1,325 copyright owners. The Figure below illustrates how the number of requests has increased between July 2011 to mid May 2012.
The growing number of removal requests points to the relevance of search technology as a means for copyright enforcement. Since for many Internet users what is not found by Google appears to be non-existent, removing search results from Google’s results lists is obviously a powerful tool for private copyright enforcement. However, several downsides are connected with such private copyright enforcement practices:
Let’s talk about Porn. According to Wikipedia, „[d]epictions of a sexual nature are as old as civilization“. And of course, paraphrasing Walter Benjamins famous essay, works of porn have changed in the age of mechanical reproduction. New means for (re-)producing works of art – printing press, photography, video, the Internet – have always and early on been used for producing and distributing pornographic works. And in the Internet age, porn has become more widespread than ever. Wondracek et al. (2010, PDF) report in their paper entitled “Is the Internet for Porn?” that 42,7% of all Internet users view pages with pornographic content. Also, popularity of peer-to-peer file-sharing technologies is connected to access to pornographic content (see Coopersmith 2006, PDF).
In spite of these well-known facts regarding the importance of pornography in the context of new copyright-related technologies, talking about the role of both producers and consumers of pornographic content in regulatory struggles is uncommon in journalistic and scholarly analyses alike. As a first step to acknowledging this role, I just want to list examples I can recall where porn producers and/or users have been influential in the field of copyright-related struggles: Read the rest of this entry »