Thursday, March 29, 2012

UK Entertainment Industry: Fair Use Hurts Economic Growth

Just as we're seeing increased recognition about the importance of exceptions to copyright law in making sure that creativity can thrive, you have a bunch of the biggest copyright trade organizations in the UK putting out a document that completely trashes the notion of copyright exceptions. In a list of "myths about copyright" the most stunning one is:
‘…exceptions deliver economic growth...’

Wrong. Exceptions remove the core asset value of the creative work and so reduce incentives for creators for greater economic activity. An exception may benefit the public sector, but that has to be weighed against the loss of revenue to the creative sector of the economy. Far better for the Government to examine ways of modernising copyright licensing that incentivise digital businesses and creators together, so that consumers pay a fair price and creators receive a fair reward and incentive.
This shows a rather stunning, and near total, misunderstanding of culture, creativity and economics, all in one brief paragraph. That's impressive! First of all, exceptions do not "removed the core asset" of the creative work. The core asset of the creative work is the creative work. And that remains in place. All it does is allow for a few specific uses that, for the most part, do not interfere with the economic prospects of the work, and can often increase the value of the work itself.

Second, claiming that exceptions "reduce incentives for creators" is flat out ridiculous. The US has had fair use rules in place for decades (the UK does not, and that's part of what they're arguing against), and it's widely recognized how useful fair use has been in creating incentives for creators to create without having to be bogged down with asking permission and paying tolls. Imagine where hugely successful TV shows like The Daily Show would be if it couldn't make fair use of news clips?

Next, it's a bizarre statement to note that an exception may benefit the public sector... and then to diminish that because the entire point of copyright law is to benefit the public sector. This suggests, ridiculously, that the industry associations that signed this letter actually believe having artists get paid and "the public benefit" are in eternal conflict -- what's good for one must be bad for the other. That's ridiculous. There's a situation where the public benefit is maximized, and it's the same point at which content creators are creating good works for them that are accessible. Finally, if we want to "weigh" the losses from copyright exceptions, that's great, but that's never what the industry does. It most certainly doesn't seem to want to look at all of the revenue gains from fair use as well. The fact that more people can create by building on the works of others without having to pay, and without having to get permission, is a huge boon for creativity, including the creativity of new works. And, often, that will drive commercial benefit to the works used that way. Just as an anecdotal example, I've been listening to a bunch of mashups lately, and some of the really good ones created massive new interest from me for artists that I'd never even known about before. And that's only happening because of the "exceptions" to copyright law.

The statement by the industries is so out of touch both with economics and the realities of the creative industries, that if I were a creative person represented by one of these organizations, I'd be horrified.

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