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In the history of copyright law, legislation in Europe and the US have wound each other up more and more. Everytime when there was a copyright term extension on one side of the ocean, lobbyists on the other side started finger pointing, demanding the same rights to protect artists and the industry. A recent example for such regulatory inspiration has been the EU database  directive, which created a sui generis right for the creators of databases which do not qualify for copyright. Ever since this directive had been passed in Europe, lobbyists in the US have tried to introduce a similar provision into US copyright law (see Boyle 2008: 207 ff.). Such regulatory inspiration is neither new nor surprising nor restricted to the domain of copyright.

However, what has been leaked in the Wikileaks cables on the influence of the US on the new Spanish copyright law is way beyond mere inspiration for lobbyists. As reported by the Guardian, in this case the lobbyist has been the US government itself:

The US ambassador in Madrid threatened Spain with “retaliation actions” if the country did not pass tough new internet piracy laws, according to leaked documents. […] In his letter, Solomont  [i.e. the US ambassedor] issued veiled threats, reminding its recipients that Spain is on the Special 301, the US trade representatives’ list of countries that do not provide “adequate and effective” protection of intellectual property rights. Spain risks having its position on the list “degraded”, and could join the real blacklist of “the worst violators of global intellectual property rights.”

Read the rest of this entry »

As mentioned in my last post, this summer I am visiting the WZB to work on a paper about the digital public domain. Rifling through a huge pile of papers on the issue, I recently stumbled across Robert P. Merges’ 2004 essay “A New Dynamism in the Public Domain” (PDF) – and I really regret not having read this piece much earlier. He summarizes the main point of his paper as follows:

The simple point of this Essay is that these investments are invigorating the public domain with a new dynamism stemming from private action. These investments demonstrate that private action, and not just government policy, can augment the public domain. (p. 184)

Such private investments into the public domain, Merges argues, are inspired by the very expansions of intellectual property rights they seek to counteract: Read the rest of this entry »

Starting this week and ending in October, I am visiting researcher at the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB). The reason for my stay is a research project on the societal and economic role of the digital public domain, which I am working on together with Jeanette Hofmann. In this context, I started re-reading some of the classic works on the issue, such as David Lange’s “Recognizing the Public Domain” (PDF) from the year 1981.

Photo of Pac Man JohnGiez

Intellectual Property as “a game of conceptual Pac Man”?

While reading through this paper and his assessment of then recent changes in copyright law, several of his conclusions are strikingly similar to the ones made by contemporary copyright critics:

“I will argue that the growth of intellectual property in recent years has been uncontrolled to the point of recklessness.” (p. 147)
“The [copyright] law seemed suddenly to metastasize” (p. 153)
“The field of intellectual property can begin to resemble a game of conceptual Pac Man in which everything in sight is being gobbled up” (p. 156)

Since Lange’s assessments in 1981, however, there have been some of the most fundamental revisions in copyright’s history such as the TRIPS treaty or the subequent WIPO Copyright Treaties and their respective implementation into national law – all further increasing strength and scope of intellectual property rights (for a detailed account of the regulatory changes between 1980 and 2000, see Drahos and Braithwaite 2002). Read the rest of this entry »

In their book “Information Feudalism” (2002), Peter Drahos and John Braithwaite argue that the “danger of intellectual property lies in the threat to liberty” (p. 3). Also Jamie Boyle, in his open access book “The Public Domain” (2008, PDF) warns against the potential of strong copyrights to interfere with some of the most basic human rights such as free speech. Only rarely, however, these dangers become so clearly visible as in the current controversy around a Greenpeace campaign video.

It all started with a very successful Superbowl commercial by VW, featuring a child as Darth Vader and being enormously successful on YouTube with over 40 million viewers so far:

Inspired by this commercial, Greenpeace created a parody featuring several kids playing other famous Star Wars characters and attacking VW for its CO2 policies on the campaign website www.vwdarkside.com. When today I wanted to see the video embedded at the site, I however only encountered the message delivered by YouTube that the video was not available due to copyright infringement (see screenshot below). Read the rest of this entry »

A few days ago, the German collecting society GEMA was criticized by CEOs of leading music labels such as Universal or Sony Music for not being able to negotiate an agreement with Google, the owner of YouTube, that would allow their music videos to be featured on the site (see “Cracks in the Content Coalition: Corporations vs. Copyright Collectives“).  Today the German branch of the hacktivism group Anonymous weighed in and launched a campaign against GEMA (see the video message below).

At the time I am was writing this post, the GEMA homepage is was down, most likely because of a distributed denial-of-service attack – the standard form of online protest organized by Anonymous. The rationale for the attack given in the video explicitly refers to the recent criticism by major label representatives and reads as follows (my translation): Read the rest of this entry »

Right on time before flying to Leuven for the upcoming ESF Workshop “Consuming the Illegal“, Google/YouTube published the copyright cartoon perfectly illustrating what the workshop will be about:

The copyright abolitionists over at “Against Monopoly” feature a series entitled “IP as a joke“. But this video, as funny as it may seem, is to be taken completely serious. The background for this crazy/disturbing/awkward “Copyright School” is a change in YouTube’s copyright infringement policies. As repeatedly discussed on this blog (e.g. “This Post is Available in Your Country“) and described by fellow workshop participant Domen Bajde (see “Private Negotiation of Public Goods: Collateral Damage(s)“), users who posted three videos containing (seemingly) infringing content to YouTube have not only lost those videos but all of their videos: their account was deleted.

But since even for copyright lawyers it is often difficult to distinguish between infringing and non-infringing (fair) use (see the workshop paper of Sigrid and myself), a lot of creative users remixing existing works were in constant danger to lose all their uploaded videos due to suddenly becoming a “multiple infringer”. This week, Google has softened this policy a little. “Infringers” are now first sentenced to “copyright school”. On the official YouTube-blog this reads as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Every day I keep adding open tabs to my browser with interesting articles on issues related to governance across borders, hoping to find the time to blog about them; only rarely, I actually manage to do so. This is why I am starting the new year with a new series called “Tagged Tabs”. To remove at least some of the open tabs in my browser I will (un)regularly present a list of commented links to interesting articles elsewhere.

(leonhard)

When discussing national copyright legislation with lawyers, most discussions end relatively quickly with reference to the inherent necessities of international treaties. Legalize non-commercial file-sharing? In conflict with the Berne three-step test, which is included in the TRIPs Agreement, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, the EU Copyright Directive and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (see also the Declaration on the Three-Step Test by the Max Planck Institute for Intellectual Property in Munich). Introduce a so-called cultural flat-rate (see also “Extending Private Copying Levies“)? Not in line with the Three-Step Test, either. Shorten copyright terms below the 50 year threshold? Impossible, at least for WTO member states, which have to abide to the TRIPs Agreement.

And there is, of course, some truth in the prevailing view that most aspects of copyright legislation are already mapped out by international law, leaving national legislatures with only little room for maneuver. Nevertheless, two recent and very antagonistic examples of national copyright reform efforts show that this national leeway is not so small after all.

In sharp contrast to European tendencies to increase scope and length of copyright protection, the Brazilian copyright reform proposal put forward by the governing Worker’s Party includes wide exceptions for non-profit educational uses, a reduction of the copyright term from 70 to 50 years, and it even flirts with the introduction of a cultural flat-rate (see vgrass; an English version of the proposal: PDF). One of the most striking clauses in the bill deals with circumvention of copy protection measures (so-called “DRM“), as is reported by Michael Geist:

Not only does the proposal permit circumvention for fair dealing and public domain purposes, but it establishes equivalent penalties for hindering or preventing the users from exercising their fair dealing rights.  In other words, the Brazilian proposals recognizes what the Supreme Court of Canada stated several years ago – over-protection is just as harmful as under-protection. Read the rest of this entry »

The impact of copyright regulation on economic development in general and innovation in particular is not the primary topic discussed in this blog, even though it is the issue that feeds most of the current conflicts about copyright regulation. In last week’s issue, the German magazine “Der Spiegel” published a feature entitled “Explosion of Knowledge” (German article). The article is more or less a synopsis of the comprehensive, two-volume and over 860 pages strong “Geschichte und Wesen des Urheberrechts” (“History and Essence of Copyright”) by Eckhard Höffner, historian based in Munich. Why does a general interest magazine like “Der Spiegel” feature a book on copyright in 19th century Germany? Obviously, the reason are implications for ongoing debates on copyright legislation and its impact on economic development, or, as stated in the article’s subheadline:

Has Germany’s industrial rise in the 19th century happened because the country did not have copyright?

Following Höffner, Wolfgang Menzel’s famous dictum of Germany as a nation of “poets and thinkers” (“Dichter und Denker“) did not so much refer to prominent German writers such as Goethe or Schiller, but rather to Germany as a whole. Compared to England, where the Statute of Anne had introduced the first “modern” copyright in 1710, 19th century Germany produced more books, written by more authors, distributed to more readers. In 1843 over 14.000 different titles – a majority being non-fiction books – were printed in Germany compared to only about 1.000 titles printed in England. The main reason, according to Höffner, was weak copyright enforcement due to Germany’s small-statism. Read the rest of this entry »

In a speech given at the Italian parliament earlier this month titled “Internet is Freedom”, Lawrence Lessig prominently addressed issues recently discussed in this blog: as argued in “Reflections on Abolitionism: Copyright and Beyond“, he painted the picture of fighting extremists – abolitionists on the one, copyright zealots on the other hand -, thereby presenting himself as the sensible moderate seeking a middle course. So far, so business as usual.

What struck me was the particular compromise Lessig suggested: referencing the book “Promises to Keep” (2004) from his Harvard Berkman Center colleague William Fisher III and the German Green Party, he advocated for introducing a “Cultural Flat-rate” (see “Extending Private Copying Levies: Approaching a Culture Flat-rate?“).

While the short clip above delivers those 6 minutes of Lessig’s half an hour long speech that deal with abolitionism, copyright zealots and the Cultural flat-rate, I can only recommend watching the whole speech at blip.tv.

(leonhard)

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
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