Strange things are happening...
Not sure why this is happening, but it appears that commons sense is slowly starting to make a comeback in the discussion about copyright. Yesterday we had the British Prime Minster announce that his government is undertaking a review of the parts of the intellectual property laws in order to enable more flexible use of copyright protected works along the lines of the the US fair-use doctrine:
The second new announcement I can make today is to do with intellectual property.
The founders of Google have said they could never have started their company in Britain. The service they provide depends on taking a snapshot of all the content on the internet at any one time and they feel our copyright system is not as friendly to this sort of innovation as it is in the United States.
Over there, they have what are called ‘fair-use’ provisions, which some people believe gives companies more breathing space to create new products and services. So I can announce today that we are reviewing our IP laws, to see if we can make them fit for the internet age. I want to encourage the sort of creative innovation that exists in America.
This obviously is a huge win for Google (they have been preaching this for years to European and UK policy makers) and also needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt (the UK government basically ignored all the outcomes of the last review that called for less restrictive IP laws and even implemented changes that the review had advised against).
On the other hand the British MP does not seem to be the only high ranking official who seems to have changed his mind when it comes to copyright in the digital environment. Earlier Today Neelie Kroes, the EU’s commissioner in charge of the digital agenda gave a speech in Avignon in which she almost sounds like a copy-fightin-free-culture-activist:
Today our fragmented copyright system is ill-adapted to the real essence of art, which has no frontiers. Instead, that system has ended up giving a more prominent role to intermediaries than to artists. It irritates the public who often cannot access what artists want to offer and leaves a vacuum which is served by illegal content, depriving the artists of their well deserved remuneration. And copyright enforcement is often entangled in sensitive questions about privacy, data protection or even net neutrality.
It may suit some vested interests to avoid a debate, or to frame the debate on copyright in moralistic terms that merely demonize millions of citizens. But that is not a sustainable approach. We need this debate because we need action to promote a legal digital Single Market in Europe.
My position is that we must look beyond national and corporatist self-interest to establish a new approach to copyright. We want “une Europe des cultures” and for this we need a debate at European level.
Again this needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt, since both the UK government and the EU commission are continuing to push for more restrictive IP rules through the secretive and totally not-evidence-based ACTA process, but maybe we are witnessing something like a turning point here. Another hopeful sign is that even the Americans are doing surprising things these days…