Conferences, copyright, London Book Fair

Copyright, Books and Progress

This year’s Charles Clark Memorial Lecture at London Book Fair, entitled Copyright, Books and Progress, was delivered by Professor Daniel Gervais, Milton R Underwood Chair in Law and Director of the Vanderbilt Intellectual Property Program at Vanderbilt Law School. 

Professor Gervais said that copyright is more about intermediation than authors; it is meant to help create value in the marketplace.  Today, the power of online users has eclipsed many of the discussions on the rights of authors and professional users.  The new intermediaries are not copyright owners, but companies such as Facebook and Google who generate revenues by selling advertising.  Their aim is to pay as little as possible for creative works.     

Copyright implies “one size fits all” – but now this doesn’t work.  Allowing the re-fragmentation of rights materials to create a single protected object does work.  The ability of the Internet to disseminate worldwide at little cost is a powerful leveller; but saying no to a user online is the least desirable option.  If copyright can be aligned with purpose, the need for more limitations and exceptions will be reduced. 

The nature of content should matter to us all; progress doesn’t necessarily mean “new”, because new doesn’t always justify progress. Does copyright law incentivise the right things? In order to achieve its aims, new content must not only be created but made available, while finding ways not to disadvantage those who have spent their lives perfecting their creative craft. Spending time on creativity is essential for humanity to reach maximum levels of achievement. 

In the knowledge economy, creativity has replaced the value of material goods.  Human emancipation through science and the arts is progress; the role of governments is to promote progress by ensuring that the “greater proportion” of change is for progress. Good governance of human progress is about promoting conditions for business to thrive across borders and for humans to develop their potential. 

 Professor Gervais offered a few “concrete” suggestions:

  • In the face of the takeover of human creativity by a small number of large technology companies, we can either take a laissez-faire approach, or we can use copyright to foster creativity more proactively. 
  • OR we can regulate dissemination.
  • OR we can implement a policy that implies some regulation.

Internet users certainly need filters; but for many forms of enterprise, the Internet is “it”; and the Internet is also the only means of revenue for many companies. 

Copyright law therefore matters: it is the main policy tool we have to effect financial flows to professional creators and publishers – highly desirable goals for the future of progress.  “The Internet’s purpose should be to foster, not hinder, rights.”

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