New Age IP

One of the great things that can be said about the system of laws which provide the enforceable rights within IP, IP Rights such as patents, copyright and trade marks, is that they are stable. Most are built on international conventions going back to the 19th Century. The 1886 Berne convention on copyright is a good example. Since its inception change has been practically glacial. There have been sudden shifts as new type of works have been protected: sound recordings, film, computer programs, but in the fundamentals, little if any change. If anything rights have got stronger for copyright owners. Longer life, extended now to life of the author plus 70 years, and the ability to assert rights over some derived works, have extended the idea of copying beyond the original concept of the sole right to make copies of a book In the age of global warming this is one glacier that seems to have got bigger. Until now at least.

The “Internet Age” has thrown up new challenges for copyright, for example cutting and pasting this article would be a copyright infringement even if you were just wanting to print a copy to read at bed time. “Incidental copying” is certainly one important issue, but there are more challenging ones. The internet gives rise, for example, to much “transformative” use, where a copyright work is taken and used to create a new work. Think of the comic musical pastiche on You Tube, loosely based on popular songs. Enough transformation and you have a new work, with its own copyright; too little and its old fashioned infringement. When is it “fair use”? That’s not always clear, and that’s part of the point. The ease with which works can, and are, being transformed and new possibilities for creative use of works challenge the existing copyright systems, even in countries like US and UK where the courts take the freedom to apply the existing law in a new context.

Disquiet with existing the copyright regime is one factor behind initiatives, like the UK’s Governments review into “IP and Growth”, which are springing up to address how IP works in the Internet Age. The emphasis of the voices encouraging these reviews, at least to date, has been in relaxing copyright law in the hope of stimulating creativity and with it economic growth. As always the challenge with be changing anything in the world of IP quickly enough for it have an impact on current economic woes. More likely, sadly, that the small cogs and wheels in the global IP system will freeze, bringing change at the usual glacial pace. A pace of change hard to unthaw in a system the lives in centuries, rather than even in decades, let alone the Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame that we all can now have in our own You Tube video.

By the way, please have my permission to copy and print this article for your own private use, but don’t pass it on, as there are limits, and in this case the license is personal. Give people a link to this site instead.

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