How secure is your intellectual property?

Further to last week's post about online images and copyright, I posted a link on our Facebook page to an article from Crikey's Daily Review about imminent likely changes to Australia's copyright laws.

Anyone who has created, or intends to create, content – writing (books, blogs, articles), photography, music, etc. – should be aware of these changes as they could well affect the control you have over what is, after all, your intellectual property.

The Daily Review's Paul Noonan provides a thorough summary which I won't repeat here (but I suggest you read). Briefly, the government will respond to recommendations from an Australian Law Reform Commission review of copyright law, particularly as it pertains to the digital economy. While the final report is not yet publicly available, an earlier discussion paper indicates the ALRC's preference for the Copyright Act to be amended to include an expanded concept of 'fair use'.

As Noonan writes: "This would give users of copyright material far broader rights than they currently have to use material without the consent of the copyright owner and without paying the owner for the use." (My emphasis)

In other words, it will be easier for others to reproduce your stuff without acknowledging in any way that you created that stuff. What's more, if the American situation is anything to go by, it will be much easier for large corporations to use your stuff without asking, and much harder for you to challenge such use.

Copyright law is out of date

There is little doubt that the copyright laws need updating. The current act became law in 1963 and is woefully inadequate in today's very different publishing environment. For instance, current copyright law in most major nations is still stuck in a paradigm of regional boundaries – something virtually impossible to police in the 21st century. (Reckon regionally protected DVDs are preventing any illegal downloads?)

However, just because it is easier to copy and reuse someone's work it doesn't follow that such copy and reuse should become legal in a wider range of circumstances. Nor does it follow that easier copying and reuse should make it okay to copy and reuse larger slabs of a person's work without acknowledging that person.

Why not give control to the creator?

An increasingly widely recognised alternative to traditional copyright is something called a Creative Commons licence. By 'attaching' a Creative Commons licence to a work, a creator is able to grant permission to others to use their work under certain circumstances. Those circumstances are determined by the creator.

For instance, many photographers on Flickr make their photos available under a Creative Commons 'Attribution, NonCommercial' licence, meaning others (such as the ALRC themselves, ironically) can use their pictures non-commercially (i.e. without making saleable products) provided attribution is given to the photographer – usually via a hyperlink to the original work.

Creators using Creative Commons licences have various options, including whether to allow commercial use, whether to allow adaptations of the work and whether those using their work must agree to allow their work to be reused under a similar licence.

The point is that the creator has control over their work – they choose the circumstances under which their work can be reused.

Which begs the question: why does copyright law have to be an 'either-or' situation. Why couldn't formal copyright law mimic what Creative Commons does? Why not have a default situation in which copyright rests with the creator in much the same way as it does now, but allow the creator to choose to expand the rights of others?

At the very least creators should be to retain the right to attribution no matter where, when or how much or their work is reused. This has always been the case with books in the past (i.e. via citations) and I can see no reason why that should change. In fact it should be enhanced. In the internet age, attribution has a value all its own given its role in improving search engine rankings.

Whatever happens, creators of any content would be well advised to keep abreast of whatever changes to legislation are proposed in the coming months.

I'm interested in your comments or input. Perhaps you know more about this area than I do and there is nothing to worry about? Or more to worry about than we realise? Please contribute to the comments on the website.

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