March 2008

One of the issues doing the rounds right now is whether ISPs should ‘filter’ for copyright-infringing content (however that might be done). One of the many obvious issues with the attempt to do so is encryption. Solution? Ban encrypted P2P traffic, apparently.

IP academia is a field dominated by obsession with new technologies. Every now and then we need a reality check. While there are lots of things one could read to get that reality check, this post, by Tarleton Gillespie (author of Wired Shut: Copyright and the Shape of Digital Culture (MIT Press, June 2007)) prompted me to think more broadly today.

I’ve mentioned before (here, here, here) the idea, currently floating around in just about all the Western countries, that ISPs should adopt a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy, disconnecting copyright-infringing internet users. The push for such a policy by certain copyright owner organisations at the moment is nothing if not vigorous: and appears to be making some headway: the UK seems to be considering it; France too.

Anyway, I’ve outlined in the past all kinds of things we would want to know before such a policy was adopted: not least of which would be consumer representation in any negotiations (Choice, or the Communications Law Centre, would both be candidates here). Now I’ve found a description of a (characteristically critical) presentation given by Lilian Edwards last week at an LSE conference. Worth a read if you’re interested in these issues, and so is Lilian’s follow-up comment.

If you had any doubt at all about who lies at the bottom of the heap in the publishing industry, try reading this new report from the Society of Authors, Educational Publishing in Australia: What’s in it for authors?.

In a word? Nada. Zip. Nothing but the joy of writing and seeing your name in print. A sample quote:

Educational publishers are displaying a profound disregard for the basic rights and entitlements of authors, and have been getting away with it because individual authors are conned into thinking that they’re being offered a good deal relative to the rest of the market. This is not only myopic business practice, it is also a self-fulfilling prophecy that is leading to more and more authors giving up the craft, leaving us with a financially and intellectually impoverished culture industry. … There is a sinister practice in the educational publishing sector of publishers profiting from the passion of authors while treating them with supreme indifference if not contempt.’

And some facts found in the report, based on a survey of educational authors:

  1. One publisher (Pearson) controls 36% of the Australian educational market – a market share unparalleled in any other English language market.
  2. In 2003-2004 royalties or fees paid to authors represented 6.5% of publishers’ total expenses – down from 11% in the previous year.
  3. Royalty rates in contracts offered to authors are going down.
  4. Contracts increasingly assign to publishers the lion’s share of CAL payments – 80% in the case of recent Pearson contracts.
  5. 52% of the educational authors in the survey received any payments at all from CAL for copying of their work.

I wonder what the board of CAL make of all this? It’s worth noting, too, that CAL just recently put in place a system for automatically recognising contractual divisions of rights to receive CAL payments. Can’t help but think that is going to be vastly to the benefit of publishers, at least in the educational publishing market. One hopes that the ASA will be taking this up with CAL.

Forget the CLRC’s Copyright and Contract recommendations on contracting out of exceptions. One can’t help but wonder whether we shouldn’t be looking at the various mechanisms found elsewhere in the world that seek to protect authors against the might of the creative industries intermediaries like the publishers (see William Cornish, ‘The Author as Risk-Sharer’ (2002) 26 Colum. J. L. & Arts 1, or in a different context, my paper on performers’ rights here.)

It also raises a rather interesting question for the OAK Law project. One of their proposals, back in their 2006 report, was to ‘Develop and implement systems designed to raise awareness and understanding among academic authors, research offices and repository administrators of…how to negotiate an appropriate allocation of copyright interests with publishers.’ I’m sure their thinking has progressed since August 2006; it will be very interesting to hear, in due course, what they think can be done in this space, and how, in a concentrated educational publishing market where authors’ rights seem to be decreasing, rather than increasing.

Hat tip: the very useful Creative Economy website, where you can learn of all sorts of interesting new reports on creative industries.

At in January, one of the great keynotes was a talk by Stormy Peters titled ‘Would you do it again for free’. Issue: if you’re working on an open source project, and then a company hires you to work on the project, so you’re paid, then the company or the pay goes away, would you go back to working on the project? Interesting issue about incentives and the impact of money on gift economies/altruism (you can watch the video here).

Stormy has a new post at the OpenLogic blog, with the results of a mini-survey on the overlap between OS professional and hobby lives. Interesting!

Just a quick note to let people know that the deadline for making submissions to the review of legal deposit requirements in Australia – which I’ve mentioned before – has been extended to Friday 2 May 2008 (it was originally supposed to close in January 2008).

All the info is here. I’d encourage people to give it some thought. Issues raised include:

  1. Should people who publish films, or electronic materials, be required to ‘deposit copies’ so that we can make sure we are creating a record for future generations?
  2. Should we require deposit of electronic copies of printed material (should publishers have to deposit electronic copies of books?). If so, how should these be made available? Should the NLA supply electronic copies to regional libraries to increase access? Or not…?
  3. Should we be ‘depositing’ internet material? How does the role of organisations like the Internet Archive, or the National Libraries ‘Pandora’ project, overlap with/interact with legal deposit?
  4. Anyone who has ever had an interest in the Google book project, or ever looked for a document on the Internet and found it gone, should be interested in these issues.

Update: I am reliably informed that I am utterly nerdy for thinking this might be interesting. Sigh.

I could never work out why the US Free Trade Agreements included a provision on patent term extension for ‘unreasonable delays’ in the patent office (see, eg, Australia-US Free Trade Agreement Art 17.9.8). I figured there must be delays in some of the developing world countries they negotiate with.

Now I understand why – according to Patently-O, ‘the vast majority of issued patents have an extended patent term due to Patent Office delay’ – at least in his sample of patents issued in March 2008.

PS – note that the Australia-US FTA provision isn’t actually representative. Most of the FTAs require extension in the case of delay in relation to a single patent. Ours only kicks in if there is a pattern of unreasonable delays.