Friday, June 19, 2009

Obama and intellectual property

James Boyle has been eloquently (as ever) assessing the Obama administration's approach to intellectual property.
"In the area of copyright law . . . well, the signs are mixed.

Traditionally, Democratic administrations take their copyright policy direct from Hollywood and the recording industry. Unfortunately, so do Republican administrations. The capture of regulators by the industry they regulate is nothing new, of course, but in intellectual property there is the added benefit that incumbents can frequently squelch competing technologies and business methods before they ever come into existence. Years of making policy this way have given us retrospectively extended copyright terms that are in excess of 100 years. (Perpetual copyright ”on the instalment plan” in Peter Jaszi’s words.) It has given us a one-sided and unbalanced view of the world, which registers with complete accuracy the real dangers that the content industry faces from any new technology, while ignoring the benefits those same technologies can provide – including to the content industry...

...the Obama administration’s opposition to a proposal on copyright exceptions for the visually impaired. About 95 per cent of books are not available for blind or partially sighted readers. Some countries have exceptions in their laws which, very sensibly, condition the grant of the copyright monopoly on a (very) few public interest limitations, such as the right to make non-commercial versions of works one has legally purchased in order to make them accessible to the visually impaired...The proposal would generalise and harmonise those exceptions. It is backed by a number of developing countries and opposed – quietly – by the US and most of the European Union. Hip-deep in a colossal market failure on a global scale, they say optimistically that the market will provide an acceptable solution, though there is overwhelming empirical evidence that it will not.

Why oppose this proposal? Scaremongering aside, there is no real threat to anyone’s business model here...This proposal represents the ideas that rights should have limits and that we should harmonise limitations and exceptions as well as rights themselves. It is that principle, the principle of balance, that must be resisted. Even if it puts one in the embarrassing position of...sacrificing one’s blind citizens to an industry agenda... this little piece of moral cowardice is not something many people are going to notice. But it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, nonetheless."

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