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Glyn Moody

Glyn Moody's look at all levels of the enterprise open source stack. The blog will look at the organisations that are embracing open source, old and new alike (start-ups welcome), and the communities of users and developers that have formed around them (or not, as the case may be).

EU Greens Come On Board Pirates' Copyright Agenda

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A couple of weeks ago, I was talking about the striking success of the Pirate Party in the German local elections. Since then, an opinion poll has suggested that, currently at least, the party enjoys a similarly wide support throughout the country - around 8%

But as I mentioned in my post, for the programme espoused by the Pirate Party to catch on, it needs more mainstream parties to start adopting its ideas. It looks like that has started to happen, as the founder of the original Pirate Party, Rick Falkvinge explains on his always thought-provoking blog:

The fifth largest party group in the European Parliament has adopted the Pirate Party positions on the copyright monopoly straight off the bat.

This is a huge victory for the pirate perspective. Just like the Greens needed time and effort in their time to explain their new and odd perspective, the pirate perspective of openness, transparency and accountability gradually gains its foothold. Now, the European Green group (of which the Swedish Pirate Party is a member) has adopted the Pirate Party's perspective on culture completely. This expands the exposure area of the pirate perspective considerably.

There's a draft paper from the EU Greens grouping entitled "Creation and Copyright in the Digital Era " [.pdf]. Here are some of its highlights:

§5. Distinction between commercial and non commercial use of copyright material always needs to be made: users making financial benefits from the exploitation of copyrighted works should remunerate right holders accordingly, while users making no financial benefits should be free to use copyrighted works provided that they quote the authors. Although legal actions should sanction violations of copyright with commercial intent, we reject policies and measures only based on repression and control as so-called solutions to address the current social and economic changes introduced by digital technologies and the Internet. They too often carry the risk of arbitrary deprivation of individual liberty, while repressive measures and policies such as three strike type laws more and more show inefficient, financially costly and inappropriate to respond properly to the transformations that affect creation.

That's an interesting position that is similar to granting a cc-by-nc licence for all created works.

§9. Copyright is a legal tool that was forged in time and that changed according to the evolution of creation and techniques. It was built to offer a balance between the interests of creators and those of the public, and as such it incorporates protections and limitations or exceptions. It is a tool, among others, dedicated to promote creation, and should never be looked as an end in itself.

That's a position that will certainly be familiar to readers of this blog.

§10. The recognition of the moral rights of artists and creators cannot be alienated or ignored, whatever the technological forms of production, reproduction, dissemination of work are. In a context where the production and dissemination of cultural goods is increased by today's technical possibilities, it is essential that the identification, acknowledgement and registering of the author(s) of creative work be performed. This implies the development and implementation of new tools, data basis and practices, that should be promoted and supported by institutions.

That makes evident the equivalence of moral rights and the kind of community recognition that lies at the heart of the open source methodology.

§18. In a context where human exchanges and communication depend on sophisticated and fast changing technologies, interoperability between formats and reader hard-ware is essential to democratic access to cultural production as well as to economic activities. This technical feature should be endorsed and implemented by European institutions and promoted by European regulations.

Good to see the issue of interoperability being raised here, but it would have been better if they had explicitly called for open standards – interoperable proprietary standards are only useful to the owners.

§19- Non commercial sharing between individuals should be allowed, for instance by widening the scope of the existing private copying exception. If and when it can be proved that the production of cultural goods is compromised by non-commercial sharing, a content flat rate or another mechanism for broadband users may be envisaged. Such a mechanism must not invade the privacy of internet users. The distribution of revenues should favour poor and starting creators.

This touches on the key issue of evidence-based policy making. As the Greens' document says, if and when it is shown that non-commercial sharing is harmful, then flat-rate systems can be considered. Until such time, the default should be to allow sharing for no charge.

§21. Finally, freedom to operate, to experiment, to challenge existing institutions and business models, and technological constraints and methods, is important, not only in terms of creative activity, but in terms of creating value, expanding the possibilities of knowledge and its impact on society, and in allowing society to grow and prosper. The Internet itself would not have existed without this freedom to operate, and the conditions which permitted this to happen should not be foreclosed. Therefore we need to guaranty net neutrality.

It's really great to see an appreciation that even apparently technical issues like net neutrality have a profound impact on creativity in general.

Here's a perceptive encapsulation of why copyright is so problematic for the digital age:

§23. Up until twenty years ago, copyright was hardly anything that concerned ordinary people. The rules about exclusivity on the production of copies where aimed at commercial actors, who had the means to, for example, print books or press records. Private citizens who wanted to copy a poem and send to their loved one, or copy a record to cassette and give it to a friend, did not have to worry about being in breach of copyright. In practice, anything you had the technical means to do as a normal person, you could do without risk of any punishment.

But today, copyright has evolved to a position where it imposes serious restrictions on what ordinary citizens can do in their every-day life. As technological progress has made it easier for ordinary people to enjoy and share culture, copyright legislation has moved in the opposite direction.

We want to restore copyright to its origins, and make absolutely clear that it only regulates copying for commercial purposes. To share copies, or otherwise spread or make use of use somebody else's copyrighted work, should never be prohibited if it is done non-commercially and without a profit motive. Peer-to-peer file sharing is an example of such an activity that should be legal.

Finally, it makes some concrete proposals on DRM copyright term and orphan works:

§24. DRM is an acronym for "Digital Rights Management", or "Digital Restrictions Management". The term is used to denote a number of different technologies that all aim to restrict consumers' and citizens' ability use and copy works, even when they have a legal right to do so. It must always be legal to circumvent DRM restrictions, and we should consider introducing a ban in the consumer rights legislation on DRM technologies that restrict legal uses of a work. There is no point in having our parliaments introduce a balanced and reasonable copyright legislation, if at the same time we allow the big multinational corporations to write their own laws, and enforce them through technical means.

§25. Much of today's entertainment industry is built on the commercial exclusivity on copyrighted works. This, we want to preserve. But today's protection times — life plus 70 years — are absurd. No investor would even look at a business case where the time to pay-back was that long. We want to shorten the protection time to something that is reasonable from both society's and an investor's point of view, and propose 20 years from publication.

§26. Today, works that are still in copyright but where it is impossible or difficult to locate the rights owner is a major problem. The majority of these works have little or no commercial value, but since they are still covered by copyright, they cannot be reused or distributed because there is nobody to ask for permission. Rights owners who want to continue to exercise their commercial exclusivity on work they already produced should register them within 5 years. This would greatly reduce the number of orphan works and facilitate diligent search.

I'm impressed by the thoroughness of the document, even if I disagree with some of its details. But what's most important about it is that it represents the assimilation of many hitherto way-out ideas into the policy of an established political party, albeit one that is itself located towards the fringe. It suggests that the ideas espoused by the Pirate Party and others are slowly seeping into the political mainstream. Next stop, Lib Dems...?

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