Clearly copyright is big business. As we saw in CI No 2,706, the new media such as the Internet and CD-ROMs are causing grave concern to those dedicated to protecting intellectual property rights, and little is yet in place to protect works that are subject to trans-border transmission. US figures show the industry growing at […]
Clearly copyright is big business. As we saw in CI No 2,706, the new media such as the Internet and CD-ROMs are causing grave concern to those dedicated to protecting intellectual property rights, and little is yet in place to protect works that are subject to trans-border transmission. US figures show the industry growing at an average of 6.3%, while in the UK, studies show that copyright contributes 5.4% to the Gross Domestic Product and employs more than 800,000 people. And broadcasters are also expressing concern about video-on-demand. If it takes off, it will swamp the world with digital entertainment products and will need some form of control. Sophie Wilson, chief scientist at Online Media – the Cambridge, UK-based division of Acorn Computer Group Plc and provider of set-top boxes and participant in the Cambridge interactive television trial – sees the problem of provision for copyright clearance as one of the biggest barriers to video-on-demand. This type of service poses a particularly knotty problem because it is not yet clear whether it involves actual copying of material, making copyright laws relevant, or rather the use of the material, bringing licensing laws into play. Our system doesn’t involve actual copying of material, she declares.
This brings up the question of what an electronic copy is and what electronic rights are. The electronic copyright laws are quite strong in this country, argues Chris Barlas, chairman of the Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society. The Copyright Act said a surprising amount: more than those of other European countries. It stipulates that a copy doesn’t have to be a material copy. Video-on-demand is classed as a ‘transient copy in RAM’, according to Barlas and so the Act does apply. As with copyright on the Internet, however, this is seen as a grey area, and one that has not been widely tested through the courts. So who is liable for infringement? It is very complicated, said Barlas There is a lot of infringing material on the Internet and few mechanisms for protection. Who is responsible for copyright protection is a dynamic area of law. The US is where the test legal cases are beginning to emerge. Last year Sega Enterprises Ltd successfully sued a bulletin board company for distributing its games on the Internet without its permission, and the year before Playboy also won a case against a bulletin board provider for putting images from its magazine on the Internet, both decisions implying that the US courts are holding the bulletin board providers responsible for what is distributed on them.
By Abigail Waraker
This has given rise to general concern among these providers that they are being held responsible for copyright rules being enforced on bulletin boards. The US licensing firm Harry Fox recently started a class action against CompuServe for distributing MIDI files of Unchained Melody, which originated from a third party, and the result of this case will indicate whether this trend is to continue. Currently CompuServe is classed as a ‘news-stand’ by US law, and a news-stand operator is simply a trader with no copyright responsibility for the contents of the material sold, provided he does not offer any whole publications that are prohibited. Oliver Smart, member of the Information Infrastructure Standards Panel – challenged with taking the business concerns of publishers and turning them into technical requirements – sees a different attitude in the US to Europe. The consensus in the US is to provide strong protection for content or else there is not going to be sufficient volume of content to build the informations infrastructure we want. In Europe there is a belief that there are enough government services on which to base an information society. He believes the remit is to make content providers feel assured that copyrighted works on the Internet will be protected. To achieve this, he said, something needs to be done in a technical sense. The organisation hopes to demonstrate its findings at its next m
eeting in August. Other efforts to protect rights using technology include work by the European Commission on CITED, a technology that precedes information with a header about the legal rights tied to it. There are also watermarking technologies under development, such as Fingerprinted Bitmapped Identification from MOR Ltd of Sutton, Surrey – this enables originator-specific data to be inserted into digital data such as a scanned photograph. The technique embeds the image without modifying it and remains throughout a variety of possible transformations such as scaling, colour changes and file formatting. The software codes an image with an identification which remains with the digitised image however it is modified, and it is due out in August. Corbis Corp of Bellevue, Washington is not using technology to protect copyright, but has simply set up the Corbis Copyright Registration Program to help photographers register their images with the US Copyright Office. Copyright registration is a critical step in enforcing ownership in the US. While a photographer automatically owns copyright in an image he has created, the ability to enforce that copyright is restricted if the image has not been registered.
Touch our hearts
Technologies are one approach, and registration obviously helps, but as yet none stands out as as solution to the problem, which while perhaps not huge at the moment, is expected to be one of the biggest problems multimedia will face over the next few years. Currently the world of interactive multimedia is creatively stalled because no interactive multimedia product can touch our hearts or our imaginations in the way that a good book or even an afternoon soap opera can, argues London lawyer Alistair Kelman. But he adds that if the situation arises where innovative multimedia publications are abandoned because the burden of copyright clearance destroys their viability, it is time for a thorough review. A combination of new legal and technical measures need to be developed on an international basis to ensure that the information superhighway has plenty of traffic on it and doesn’t turn out to be a road to nowhere.