A world without copyright?

In the first of a series of Friday Questions, David Allen Green asks whether we really do need a law

Copyright is a curious legal creature.

It provides for a property right in certain (though not all) created works. And being a property right, this means there are two broad effects.

First, it means the copyright can be bought, sold, and licensed on commercial terms: and so often the copyright in a valuable work is not owned by the creator.

Second, it means the owner of the copyright can largely determine what can be done with the work by others: any unauthorised act is an infringement and thereby unlawful. There are strict limits to what one can do with a work owned by another without permission. Works covered by copyright can range from oil paintings to computer programs.

There is currently a complex and heated debate on whether copyright should be reformed. However, it is useful sometimes to stand back from such a commotion and ask some simple, basic questions.

In respect of copyright, the most fundamental question is whether it is needed at all.

Could we just get rid of this statutory property right with no problem?

If copyright is needed, what is the need which it satisfies? Can the need be clearly identified and articulated? Or is there really no "need" - it is instead just the basis of an artificial commercial model?

Is it an essential precondition for creative endeavour? Or is it the means by which creative individuals can have the just rewards of their work, even if they would have created it anyway?

Is it actually true that copyright is required for sophisticated or project-based creativity - such as films, drama productions, or musical works - that may simply not be possible without formal investment? Would such creations just cease to exist in a world without copyright?

If there must be copyright, then there are various follow-on questions. Who should own it? The original creators of a work? Or anybody who holds the copyright, even if there is real connection with the original creators? How long should it last? What constitutes infringement? What exceptions and defences should there be? And so on.

But these are perhaps second-order questions. The first question, the one on which any interested person should have a view, is could there be a world without copyright?

 

[This topic has also been covered today by Emily Goodhand @copyrightgirl on her blog.]

 

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and a practicing media lawyer.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.