Copyright reform is perhaps surprisingly high on the political agenda. But why shouldn't it be? Most of us love books and magazines, films and plays, music, television and games. But we have shifted away from a world where distribution had a cost, and copies had a cost – at least in terms of time and effort to produce and and/or a monetary cost. We all know the Internet changed that. We now have a brave new world where multiple copies can be made with little effort and often no cost beyond a file upload – and we have pitted the giants of the content industries – film and television companies, newspaper and book publishers, photo agencies, games and software producers, record labels and music publishers, against the technology companies – internet service providers, search engines, content aggregators, website hosts and technology companies - new, disruptive technologies – with some, like Sony, Apple and even now Google, with a foot in both camps.
Indeed the UK's Supreme Court have just echoed these thoughts in NLA v Meltwater saying the question being whether the copies made on users' computer screens and hard drives when they access and read content online are temporary for the purposes of Article 5.1 of the InfoSoc Directive meant that "the issue has a transnational dimension and that the application of copyright law to internet use has important implications for many millions of people across the EU making use of what has become a basic technical facility. These considerations make it desirable that any decision on the point should be referred to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling, so that the critical point may be resolved in a manner which will apply uniformly across the European Union".
Recent spats such as the Google Book Search litigation, the recently reported action by collection society Access Copyright in Canada against York University, the criminal and civil actions against platforms such as The Pirate Bay, the high profile prosecutions of file swappers such as Joel Tenenbaum and Jammie Rasset Thomas, The Viacom v YouTube and GEMA v Youtube cases, The ReDigi and Usedsoft cases, Meltwater (both in the UK and now the USA) and other aggregator vs content owner disputes and the MegaUpload case are just some of the many many examples of the courts being asked to adapt the law to meet innovative - but disruptive - uses of new technology. And the backlash is that consumers are often legitimately confused - asking questions like "why cant I format shift?" and "why don't I own the music downloads I paid for?". Legislation crawls along behind: in the UK content owners remain critical of the Government as key parts of the Digital Economy Act remain unimplemented, but are France and New Zealand's 'Three strikes' laws really appropriate in the digital age? The DCMA seems to have rapidly outdated after it's short history - is 'safe harbour' in 2013 really a suitable doctrine fit for use in 2013 - surely business models are very different to when the doctrine was was envisaged in the late 90s? Was ACTA really that bad? Is term extension something that makes any sense now? Does the Pirate Party have a valid role in politics?
Questions, questions, questions - but beneath it all are some fundamental principles and some fundamental freedoms which apply to digital natives and digital immigrants alike - and to those on both sides of the divide.