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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It's Gary Lineker 1, the Sun 0

The football hero has found himself at the heart of a Twitter storm over the refugee children debate.

The Mole wonders what sort of topsy-turvy universe we now live in where Gary Lineker is suddenly being called a “political activist” by a Conservative MP? Our favourite big-eared football pundit has found himself in a war of words with the Sun newspaper after wading into the controversy over the age of the refugee children granted entry into Britain from Calais.

Pictures published earlier this week in the right-wing press prompted speculation over the migrants' “true age”, and a Tory MP even went as far as suggesting that these children should have their age verified by dental X-rays. All of which leaves your poor Mole with a deeply furrowed brow. But luckily the British Dental Association was on hand to condemn the idea as unethical, inaccurate and inappropriate. Phew. Thank God for dentists.

Back to old Big Ears, sorry, Saint Gary, who on Wednesday tweeted his outrage over the Murdoch-owned newspaper’s scaremongering coverage of the story. He smacked down the ex-English Defence League leader, Tommy Robinson, in a single tweet, calling him a “racist idiot”, and went on to defend his right to express his opinions freely on his feed.

The Sun hit back in traditional form, calling for Lineker to be ousted from his job as host of the BBC’s Match of the Day. The headline they chose? “Out on his ears”, of course, referring to the sporting hero’s most notable assets. In the article, the tabloid lays into Lineker, branding him a “leftie luvvie” and “jug-eared”. The article attacked him for describing those querying the age of the young migrants as “hideously racist” and suggested he had breached BBC guidelines on impartiality.

All of which has prompted calls for a boycott of the Sun and an outpouring of support for Lineker on Twitter. His fellow football hero Stan Collymore waded in, tweeting that he was on “Team Lineker”. Leading the charge against the Murdoch-owned title was the close ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and former Channel 4 News economics editor, Paul Mason, who tweeted:

Lineker, who is not accustomed to finding himself at the centre of such highly politicised arguments on social media, responded with typical good humour, saying he had received a bit of a “spanking”.

All of which leaves the Mole with renewed respect for Lineker and an uncharacteristic desire to watch this weekend’s Match of the Day to see if any trace of his new activist persona might surface.


I'm a mole, innit.