It happened in 2000 and I had no hint of it when I stepped through the doors of the British Library on the last afternoon of my trip to London. A fellow traveler had raved about one of the exhibits (I think it was called 1000 years of English literature) the day before my visit, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered.
It awoke in me a passion I don’t often share but was roused again when I came across an article on Techdirt (by way of Michael Geist) about the British Library’s latest publication on copyright. From Mike Masnick’s article,
The paper brings together 13 different researchers to all share their opinions, and the general consensus appears to be that copyright today is a serious problem in need of reform (and, no, the “Digital Economy Act” in the UK didn’t help at all). Basically, the key points are that copyright shouldn’t be allowed to get in the way of research activities.
You can download a copy of the paper, Driving UK Research — Is copyright a help or a hindrance?, from Techdirt.
Dame Lynne Brindley, the Chief Executive Officer for the British Library had this to say in her introduction to the paper,
There is a supreme irony that just as technology is allowing greater access to books and other creative works than ever before for education and research, new restrictions threaten to lock away digital content in a way we would never countenance for printed material.
Let’s not wake up in five years’ time and realise we have unwittingly lost a fundamental building block for innovation, education and research in the UK. Who is protecting the public interest in the digital world? We need to redefine copyright in the digital age and find a balance to benefit creators, educators, researchers, the creative industries – and the knowledge economy. (p. 3)
Thirteen researchers and writers discuss how copyright has an impact on all kinds of research (music, theatre, law, the sciences, etc.) and some of the problems associated with using laws designed for print in a digital world. Dr. Dave Roberts and Vince Smith of the Natural History Museum offer their take on the problems with copyright and scientists along with suggestions for improvements,
For working scientists copyright is at best an irritation and at worst an obstruction. The process of science requires the sharing of results so that both the individual researcher and their institution build reputation and the esteem of their peers through recognition of the quality of their work. Traditionally this has been done by publication on paper and has been characterised as a workflow where scientists, the majority of whom these days are publicly funded, create manuscripts that they submit to publishers, who get other scientists to evaluate and comment on the work (peer review). The publisher sells the result back to the scientists. In the classic model, used to defend copyright, the money made by publishers is apportioned between the creator (author) and the publisher. In science, not only does the author not see any money from their work, but the publisher demands an exclusive right to that income in perpetuity.
For scientific publishing:
• We urgently need to separate cases where there is substantial loss of income to a content creator though content dissemination (e.g. a professional musician) from those that make no income from dissemination and rely on this as part of their scholarly activities (e.g. a professional scientist). A positive start could be made by removing copyright restrictions on material older than, say, two years from its original publication date.
• Orphan works should be placed in the public domain.
• Making copies for strictly archival purposes should not be subject to copyright control. Libraries in particular should be able to preserve digital copies in perpetuity, which technologically means regularly making copies.
I’m not sure I buy their musician example as someone who suffers from a loss of income as a consequence of content dissemination when many musicians (including some famous ones) are giving away downloads of their music and exploring new business models but the suggestions themselves seem quite reasonable.
Thank you British Library for reminding me how much I love you. (blowing kisses from Canada’s West Coast).