Copyright in the Digital Age
There has been a lot of talk in the press and in the halls of government recently about copyright: why we have it, how it is working, and whether it needs to be changed.
Both the UK and Irish government have conducted broad reviews – the UK several times over the past few years – looking at these questions. Like other ‘intellectual property’ (patents, trademarks, trade secrets, design protections and the like), copyright exists as an incentive and a reward for innovation. By giving the people or companies that develop various types of content (books, films, music, photographs and software) the right to decide how that material can be used and what they will charge for it, copyright acts like an ‘intellectual currency’ that establishes the value of a work. This allows a return on the effort and investment that need to be spent in creating such material, and helps to fund further creative works and innovations.
Microsoft regularly responds to government consultations on these questions. As a developer of copyrighted material, and as an offeror of online services (Bing, MSN, Hotmail, Cloud Solutions) and computing devices (e.g. the Xbox 360), we try to have a sensible, balanced view on copyright issues. We have recently responded to the latest UK consultation on copyright explaining some of our views, which you may want to read here.
In short, we don’t think it’s necessary to ‘reinvent the wheel’ with copyright. In the vast bulk of cases, the rules and exceptions of copyright already work very well both to encourage creativity, and to allow legitimate uses that don’t interfere with rights owners’ markets.
There are some very specific aspects of copyright that are widely recognised as needing work. These include how to deal with ‘orphan works’ (where you can’t locate the rights owner or even find out their identity), and how ‘collective licensing’ societies could be run more efficiently and competitively, for example. You will see our specific ideas on these types of priority issues in our UK response.
As our countries and our society look to innovation and creativity as important building blocks for staying competitive in a truly global society, copyright is – and will remain – an important driver of this competitiveness.