Intellectual Property Watch is reporting on a recent speech by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO–Wikipedia backgrounder) Director-General Francis Gurry on the future of copyright law. You can view the full speech on YouTube here (or here, if you want to skip the pleasantry-preliminaries), and you can read it here.
Gurry wastes no time in touching on the central issue of copyright policy:
How can society make cultural works available to the widest possible public at affordable prices while, at the same time, assuring a dignified economic existence to creators and performers and the business associates that help them to navigate the economic system?
Surprisingly, Gurry answers not by talking about retrenchment and enforcement but balancing competing interests:
It is a question that implies a series of balances: between availability, on the one hand, and control of the distribution of works as a means of extracting value, on the other hand; between consumers and producers; between the interests of society and those of the individual creator; and between the short-term gratification of immediate consumption and the long-term process of providing economic incentives that reward creativity and foster a dynamic culture.
Digital technology and the Internet have had, and will continue to have, a radical impact on those balances. They have given a technological advantage to one side of the balance, the side of free availability, the consumer, social enjoyment and short-term gratification. History shows that it is an impossible task to reverse technological advantage and the change that it produces. Rather than resist it, we need to accept the inevitability of technological change and to seek an intelligent engagement with it. There is, in any case, no other choice – either the copyright system adapts to the natural advantage that has evolved or it will perish. [emphasis added]
Perhaps Lawrence Lessig’s speech at WIPO last year has had a bigger effect than expected! Gurry even outlines “three main principles that should guide us in the development of a successful policy response”:
- “[N]eutrality to technology and to the business models developed in response to technology.”
- “[C]omprehensiveness and coherence in the policy response.”
- “[M]ore simplicity in copyright.”
Gurry ends with this observation:
Future generations are clearly going to regard many of the works, rights and business agents that we talk about as cute artefacts of cultural history, much as the vinyl record has become in a very short space of time. The digital work is going to change dimensions. We see that happening with user generated content. We see it happening also with 3D printing or additive manufacturing, where the digital file is the manufacturing technology and factory. This is the realm of the blue sky and I hope that this Conference can start to develop the tools for exploring that sky.
Update: I reference this post in the comments section of a recent Copyhype post. Suffice it to say that there’s a lot of heated rhetoric on both sides; I think Gurry’s speech does a good job a forging some reasonable middle ground.