We shouldn't play fast and loose with intellectual property

Copyright reform needs to be handled carefully.

In his recent blog post, Benjamin White of the British Library sets out a vision for copyright in the 21st century wholly at odds with the reality of life in 2012. Everywhere one looks in the digital economy, content creators and the companies which support them are working within the copyright framework to ensure that works are available online. It might not be perfect yet – very few developing technologies are – but we are clearly well on the way to making it so. 

The case for radically altering the copyright framework is simply not made. Yes, there is a strong case for making necessary, minor amendments. British creators supported such proposals when they were first made by the Gowers Review in 2007 and we support their reiteration by Hargreaves in 2011. We at the Publishers Association have also taken the lead in developing the Copyright Hub, a proposal for developing online licensing taken forward by Richard Hooper, based upon a Hargreaves recommendation.

Publishers are also leading the way in developing data and text mining, ensuring that licences are similar across different platforms and working towards a “click-through” process.  But to ensure that the systems that promote this technology are not compromised, and to ensure that valuable data repositories are not exposed to mass infringement, it is vital to ensure that mining processes are governed by a system of  managed licensed access. The blunt tool of a copyright exception would damage legitimate users of mining technology and is the wrong answer where the key question is the need for uniform technological standards.

The problem of orphan works is already being addressed, both by the EU’s Orphan Works Directive, adopted in September 2012, and the UK’s own provisions, currently moving through Parliament in the Enterprise & Regulatory Reform Bill. White fails to mention the development of the ARROW project (the Europe wide programme to develop an automated rights registry for orphan works. (ARROW’s trial with the British Library indicates that some 21 per cent of its works are orphan – significantly less than the 40 per cent that the BL estimates.) The British Library believes it should not have to pay for use of these in-copyright works; but respect for copyright and an acknowledgement that the enjoyment of a work should be associated with a payment, is a fundamental cornerstone of intellectual property.

Reform of copyright requires careful study and analysis. The Hargreaves Review failed to provide detailed economic research to back up many of its claims and the Review leader has publicly confessed that many of the economic benefits were guesses. Some proposals were not subject even to an estimate. So before the government and parliament go any further with taking forward reform proposals, they should ensure that there has been a robust, thorough and balanced assessment of their impact. In particular, proposals which would have the effect of undermining investment, growth and jobs in the creative and knowledge sector should be sent back to the drawing board.

Richard Mollet is chief executive of the Publishers Association

Books at the Bodleian Library's storage facility in Swindon (Photo: Getty Images)
Lady Macbeth.
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Lady Macbeth: the story Stalin hated reaches the movie screen

Lady Macbeth grows less psychologically plausible the higher the body count rises.

Lady Macbeth (15), dir: William Oldroyd

Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, Nikolai Leskov’s novel about a bored, oppressed and bloodthirsty young woman, was adapted for the opera by Shoskatovich. Two years after its premiere in 1934, it had a terrible review, allegedly by Stalin himself, in Pravda. The new film version, Lady Macbeth, is set in 1865 (the year the novel was published) and feels resolutely anti-operatic in flavour, with its austere visuals and no-nonsense camerawork: static medium shots for dramatic effect or irony, hand-held wobbles to accompany special moments of impetuousness. The extraordinary disc-faced actor Florence Pugh has her hair scraped back into plaits and buns – all the put-upon teenage brides are wearing them this season – and the film feels scraped back, too. But it features certain behaviour (murder) that would feel more at home, and not so riskily close to comedy, in the hothouse of opera, rather than on and around the stark moors of low-budget British cinema.

Pugh plays Katherine, who is first seen reacting with surprise to a booming singing voice at her wedding ceremony. Unfortunately for her, it’s her husband, Alexander (Paul Hilton). On the plus side, there won’t be much cause for crooning in their house, no power ballads in the shower or anything like that. The tone is set early on. He orders her to remove her nightdress. Then he climbs into bed alone. It’s not clear whether she is expected to follow, and a cut leaves the matter unresolved.

Alexander defers to his grizzled father, Boris (played by Christopher Fairbank), who purchased Katherine in a two-for-one deal with a plot of land in north-east England, on important matters such as whether she can be allowed to go to sleep before him. So it isn’t much of a loss when he is called away on business (“There’s been an explosion at the colliery!”). Ordered to stay in the house, she dozes in her crinoline, looking like an upside-down toadstool, until one day she is awakened, literally and figuratively, by the sound of the rough-and-ready groomsman Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) sexually humiliating the maid, Anna (Naomi Ackie). Katherine leaps to her rescue and gives Sebastian the most almighty shove. Pugh’s acting is exceptional; fascination, disgust and desire, as well as shock at her own strength, are all tangled up in her expression.

When Sebastian later forces his way into Katherine’s room, you want to warn them that these things don’t end well. Haven’t they seen Miss Julie? Read Lady Chatterley’s Lover? Thérèse Raquin? Well, no, because these haven’t been written yet. But the point stands: there’ll be tears before bedtime – at least if these two can lay off the hot, panting sex for more than 30 seconds.

The film’s director, William Oldroyd, and the screenwriter, Alice Birch, play a teasing game with our sympathies, sending the struggling Katherine off on a quest for independence, the stepping stones to which take the form of acts of steeply escalating cruelty. The shifting power dynamic in the house is at its most complex before the first drop of blood is spilled. Indeed, none of the deaths is as affecting as the moment when Katherine allows her excessive consumption of wine to be blamed on Anna, whose lowly status as a servant, and a dark-skinned one at that, places her below even her bullied mistress on the social scale.

There is fraught politics in the almost-love-triangle between these women and Sebastian. It doesn’t hurt that Jarvis, an Anglo-Armenian musician and actor, looks black, hinting at a racial kinship between groomsman and maid – as well as the social one – from which Katherine can only be excluded. Tension is repeatedly set up only to be resolved almost instantly. Will Alexander return home from business? Oh look, here he is. Will this latest ghastly murder be concealed? Oh look, the killer’s confessed. But the actors are good enough to convince even when the plot doesn’t. A larger problem is that Lady Macbeth grows less psychologically plausible the higher the body count rises. Katherine begins the film as a feminist avenger and ends it as a junior version of Serial Mom, her insouciance now something close to tawdry camp. 

“Lady Macbeth” is released 28 April

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 20 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble

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