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Intellectual property

At the bottom of this page is a copyright notice. There’s actually no need for it — this article is automatically protected by copyright the moment it is fixed in tangible form (that is, written) — but it’s there to remind people that they can’t do just anything they like with this article without my express permission.

I would far rather do it a bit differently, actually. I don’t mind people using my content in certain ways (as long as I receive credit where credit’s due), but I do mind people using my content in other ways. I could, of course, release my work under something like a Creative Commons licence, which would allow me to reserve some of my rights while waiving others under certain conditions, but unfortunately there is no Creative Commons Licence for “you may use my work as long as you don’t use it on things like election manifestos and anything else I might disapprove of”. And with good reason: how would you even begin to word such a licence, let alone enforce it?

It has been pointed out that in this country there are other laws I could invoke that would protect me from that kind of stuff, but that’s fine in theory only. In practice, it’s an uphill struggle trying to persuade, for example, a US court to enforce a German court oder made under German law, which is what would happen.

This is the basic problem I have with copyright law. It’s a blunt instrument at the best of times, and certainly not equipped to deal with the realities of the Information Age. The internet is making it increasingly difficult for content owners to protect their copyrights. Anyone who wants to — and this includes vast numbers of people who simply don’t understand copyright law or, worse, have been fed misinformation about it — can instantly and globally publish anything they want to.

There are two sides to this, both very negative. On the one hand we have people uploading popular music videos and complain bitterly when they are taken down because they put “hours” of work into it, and have to be told that this is irrelevant considering that the original was made by a large number of people who put months of work into it and aren’t very happy to see it being used to boost some YouTuber’s subscription count. Not to mention the fact that it then often gets illegally downloaded onto MP3 players, depriving the record label of income. But on the other hand we have fourteen-year-old girls who switch on their webcams and their iPods, and record themselves mouthing the words to their favourite song in terrible quality, only for their video to be subjected to a copyright infringement notification, which to all intents and purposes is basically a threat to sue.

There’s clearly something wrong here. I’m all for the protection of intellectual property — it’s how some people make a living — but when it comes to the point that you’re a step away from initiating legal proceedings against youngsters who genuinely can’t understand that goofing off in front of the camera can be illegal, it’s probably time to ask yourself if you haven’t got your priorities a little out of whack.

YouTube, to its credit, has done what it can to persuade content owners that there are better ways of dealing with this: they have the option, should they wish to take it, to refrain from filing claims against videos and instead to receive a share of the advertising revenue they generate. Unfortunately, this does rely on the goodwill of content owners, who are usually multi-billion-dollar companies that didn’t get that big by giving anyone any breaks, and there have been instances of the system apparently being abused by entities claiming content they have no legal right to. And of course it’s unappreciated by countless thousands of YouTubers who receive a notification of a “Content ID match” and interpret this as nasty old YouTube claiming copyright on their videos. But, by and large, it’s an interesting idea and, unless and until the law is overhauled (or, less probably, record labels come to their senses), it’s the best YouTube can do.

So, where do we go from here? As they are, things obviously aren’t satisfactory. I don’t have the faintest idea how legislation could be tweaked to make it workable, and the point of this article is not to suggest ways of doing that. This is just a plea: somebody needs to take a serious look at the situation and come up with some flash of inspiration.

© 2011 – 2018 by Andrew Bossom — all rights reserved.