Fifty Years ago the first commercial photocopier was sold by Rank Xerox sparking fears from publishers that their copyright would be compromised and predicting the end of publishing. When the first tape driven recording devices appeared similar music publishers made predictions of a end to studio publishing. The movie industry long resisted the video market because of copyright fears. Today it’s the Internet that music, movie and paper publishers most fear. Peer to Peer networks distribute content to millions of people in a nano-second and have proved extremely difficult to shut down. Books, Articles and Images copied and redistributed, newspapers suffering from falling advertising revenue as people seek out news on demand online. Even television has seen a huge decline in advertising as the Youtube generation seek the interactive internet with the world chopped into 5 minute chunks of video.
Publishers seem to face a loosing battle as their content is lost in a sea of data and efforts to stem copyright theft becoming a constant battle for intellectual property. Draconian fines and even incarceration have failed to prevent the free distribution of copyrighted material. A hypocrisy has arisen from publishers that are keen to gain from the huge internet audience and at the same time as promoting artists and video through sites such as Youtube and Metacafe have also been entangled in litigation. Singers and songwriters made famous through distributing their content free on sites such as Myspace have then condemned copyright theft after their popularity had risen sufficiently to sell their recordings.
In 2007 Radiohead out of contract with their record label became the largest band in the world to distribute an album “Rainbows” free of charge through the internet, telling fans to pay as little or much as they like for their recordings. The move was not universally popular drawing criticism from the music industry and other artists. However amongst the public it was both welcomed and visionary propelling Radiohead’s popularity worldwide. In Sweden there were protests when the founders of The Pirate Bay were sentenced to prison for facilitating the distribution of copyrighted material via their torrent search. The Swedish public made clear their feelings in 2009 by voting Pirate Bay to a seat in the European Parliament.
Rupert Murdoch has taken the decision to put much of the content of the News Corporation behind a “pay wall” in an effort to establish paid content online. Many Internet experts claim this goes fundamentally against the principals of the World Wide Web and its goal of distribution of information. However Eric Schmidt of Google recently commented on the need for journalism, which is not adequately served by blogs. Investigative Journalism has long been the cornerstone of democracy. JFK referred to the press as playing a fundamental role in a free society in his address before the American Newspaper Publishers Association, 1961.
“Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed–and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. And that is why our press was protected by the First Amendment”
Micro payment for content on the internet has failed to succeed in previous attempts, but a copyright free society may be inadequate to fund effective investigative journalism and undermine civil freedom. Today we are experiencing the biggest change in the distribution of information and media in our history. That change is fundamental and unstoppable but much as many seek a copyright free society we must be aware of the dangers that presents.
Creative Commons seeks to reinvent the cumbersome copyright system by building a framework for sharing content on the web within HTML5. They seek to wrap copyright within the markup through a system called RDFa (Resource Description Framework in attributes), making it easier to copy and paste content. Adopters of the Creative Commons Rights Expression Language (ccREL) include Flickr, Google, Facebook and Drupal. Technology and the internet are now causing us to rethink the role Copyright serves on the world wide web and in a modern open society.