I have said it before, but I do believe copyright law needs a good shake up, and so I am putting a few of my thoughts down for if/when that ever happens.

Getting too big

One of the big concerns I have is that the big players in copyright (not the artists, but publishers like the BPI, etc) seem to have far too much influence over legislation with not just the Copyright Act but lots of other laws around copyright. The latest moves to make automated filters are just insane! This is not quite as bad as a sort of legal mafia, but it seems wrong for any body or industry to have that much control that they have so many special laws just for their industry. It is a sign things are not right and that alone is a reason to redress some of the copyright laws. Such an industry is not there for the artists but for themselves, they are too big, IMHO.

Artists deserve credit and money!

However, do not get me wrong, the "creative industry" needs something, I am sure, to ensure they are able to do their thing and profit from it. Some protection does seem to me to make some sense, but what exactly is needed, that is the question.

A big issue here is the artists are often not the ones that get the protection in practice, it is the big companies that exploit them that are winning here. So maybe we need a new model?

Copying is not the thing now

The legislation does cover a bit more than just copying (performance, distribution, etc), but the key thing was always "copying", hence the name "copyright". But this is dated, and comes from the days that making a copy of a thing was hard, costly, and done purely for some commercial reasons.

Now, copying is incidental in so many ways. Even if I "own" a legitimate "copy" of something, that "file" may be on a file system using RAID (so two copies) and copied to RAM and to video card and so on. Heck, the "file" may be stored in the cloud where it exists on multiple servers, copied when I access it through network equipment and so on. Amusingly, if I "gave a copy" of such a file to someone on the same "cloud" system that may mean no actual copy being made, simply someone else accessing the same copy - so in that respect a law protecting "copying" is flawed the other way around even!

It is annoying that if I own a record (remember them) I need no end user licence. Copyright law prevents a few things but to listen to that record I need no licence. These days all that incidental copying means normal use means I need a licence, and a licence can include any onerous terms "they" like.

It was recently ruled that the incidental copying in viewing a web page was "out of scope" of copyright, right up to the cache file on the disk of the viewer. There are currently some provisions for incidental copies, but it is not a clear as it could be. Reading a web page was seen as the same as "reading a book" - not any sort of wrongdoing on the part of the person doing the "reading".

I'd like to see actual "copying" to be removed from copyright as a thing. You can still protect the commercial exploitation of a commercial work without trying to pin down "copying" as a protected right. It makes no sense now when copying is so "normal", and cost free that it happens without any thought or cost.

Right to a digital copy instance?

I logically "own" many digital "copies" of lots of films and TV shows on my Apple TV box. That allows me to view these any time I like on various devices and to share with my friends and family to a limited extent.

This is not enshrined in law in any way and not the same as my owning a VHS cassette. There is some law on this, but not quite the same as simply owning property, i.e. owning "a copy". It is contract with Apple. Oddly it lacks the loan and re-sell of a VHS cassette which I think it also needs.

What I would like is a concept in the law that I actually "own" a digital copy instance. That if Apple ever stopped AppleTV I could even receive that as a copy of the movie or some right to allow some other streaming / provider to take on that digital right instance to offer me the means to view that movie in their service.

I'd like a proper property law type ownership that I could sell or loan to someone even.

This is not trivial, I have invested thousands of pounds in these digital instances with Apple. These could all vanish at a whim of Apple if they wished. I need the law to protect those digital rights. Will my kids inherit those rights when I die? That is a serious question!

There are no lost millions of pounds

Please, get real, the idea that everyone that had copied, illegally and/or immorally, some copyright work "would have paid full price for it" and that this adds up to a vast amount of lost revenue is batshit insane, sorry. If it was pay or don't have it, it would be don't have it. There is not some huge pot of money waiting for you if only you can just get the law and technical measures right!

Open source

There is a whole world of open source stuff, in various levels of control. GPL, Creative Commons, attribution or not, etc. These manage to exist within copyright frameworks, but maybe copyright law needs to recognise the rights of people to waive some or all of their rights in a formal way to be clear that these schemes are valid, even just to irrevokably commend a work to the "public domain".

70 years, fuck that!

The 70 years is crazy, and even more complex is that it is 70 years from death of author. Working out if something is within copyright is complicated as not always obvious who the author is even if the date of publication or creation is know. Patents are 20, and maybe copyright should be the same, or shorter. Get real here! This is all about commerce, if you have not exploited the shit out of your creative works in 20 years then give up.

Registering copyright

One idea is copyright not being automatic, but you have to pay (nominal fee) to register any copyright work to get commercial protection.

I think this may be a winner. I do think things like the moral rights to attribution should perhaps be automatic, and maybe even more than 20 years, but commercial rights - why not have them paid for?

After all, what is a £10 fee to register copyright in a £20mil movies release? Could BPI really complain at having to register copyright?

Of course, what of software that is release regularly - a fee every time? What of my blog - a fee every post? Well, maybe if the moral rights were automatic (attribution) I would simply say what the fuck and not "register" copyright in my blog?

It would make some things simpler even, like the movie industry has massive hassle using any copyright material. Make it registered and 20 years max (paid each year maybe even). That would help them use material as well as offer protection on what they publish.


  1. I think a large portion of the issue is that nobody owns the movies any more. We all just buy a licence to watch the film from Apple, Netflix, or someone else.

  2. I'd like to see some sort of 2 tiered system...
    In the case of movies, once a certain % of return on the production cost has been earned (I reckon 300%, 100% to cover costs, 100% profit & 100% to make a new work with) it becomes copyright free for copying but only the original copyright owner is allowed to monetize it.

    1. @Alrock Movie accounting is so skewed anyway, many movies "don't make a profit". Or to put it another way: any plan that involves figuring out the return on a copyright work is impossible because lawyers & accountants will figure out clever ways to make the "return" be whatever they want.

      One example loophole: If I see a movie at the cinema, does the entire ticket price count as "return"? Just the amount the cinema pays the distributor of the film? Just the amount the distributor pays to the movie company? Most people would say "just the amount the distributor pays to the movie company". Now, what happens if Disney sets up a wholly-owned movie company to make the film, and after the distribution deal is signed Disney buys the distribution company? Surely that can't change it - the "return" still has to be "just the amount the distributor pays to the movie company", even though they're both owned by Disney. Now, what happens if the distributor agrees to do "special promotion" of the movie (i.e. stick up a few posters) in exchange for the movie company being paid much much less per ticket? Disney still makes the same profit overall, but the movie company makes much less revenue.

  3. Reminds me of this article from 2012 - https://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/sep/03/bruce-willis-apple-itunes-library

  4. Of course whenever people propose reducing the length of copyright terms rather than increasing them indefinitely whenever certain works risk falling out of copyright, there is a great wailing and gnashing of teeth from certain people and corporations (the same ones agitating in favour of the EU copyright filter madness). Apparently it will condemn the children of artists to permanent poverty if they don't have the right to profit off dad's work until they themselves retire, or perhaps until their grandchildren do.

    This is, from my perspective as someone who's spent his entire life creating copyrightable works, utterly insane. Why should adult offspring have the right to artificial scarcity and exclusive profit from what their parents created? In no other walk of life is it considered remotely a good thing socially for children and children's children to profit forever from the work of their parents: indeed, it is socially toxic since in addition to discouraging children of rich creators (and rich creators's content owners!) from working, it creates self-amplifying structures of money and power that eventually lead back to feudalism.

    Copyright should revert to the public domain on death, and should not last more than a few decades anyway, max: there should be some sort of teeth to make it really really difficult for legislatures to extend this period, or the current ridiculous permanently extending treadmill and ever-harsher crazy penalties would come back, where copying a film is much worse than rape or murder.

    Twenty years seems about right, and violation a civil tort with minimal damages payable, up to restitution and no more, and not fictional "if every copy was sold we could have made this much" restitution either. (Oh no, thirty-year-old backlist films and movies could be derived from freely! Thirty-year-old software too! What a disaster! Actually that sounds much better than the world we have now, though maybe the limit should be shorter for software, since thirty-year-old software is more or less useless. Ten years? Actively maintained stuff will still be in copyright for the derived works, and stuff that hasn't been maintained for a decade is clearly dead and should be usable for free derivation by anyone who wishes to.)

    Of course this is all utterly impractical because of the size of the interest groups that profit from this legally-mandated extortion scheme. It's like an ideas-based war on drugs: what matters is punishing people for the crime of not paying us as much as we want! yeah!

  5. Please not the "Pay to Register" Argument!
    Big Media already loves people's general belief that /that IS the case/ as it allows them to get away with using people's photos for free on a story, and also for anything that they can remotely claim is orphaned and that they searched with due diligence for.
    Copyright has a few problems, one of which is runaway terms [20 years from first publication sounds good to me]
    but needing a registration fee isn't one of them.
    Now, if you want to have people pay to extend beyond 20 years go for it [10% of the profit-to-date or 10,000 whichever is more, no profit? don't bother extending.]

    By all means, re-word it to be "distribution-right", but a free, automatic right is worth having, lest every open source software project find their licenses worth nothing, including the "no warranty" phrase along with the rest of it.
    [a: Linus you are charged with the banking chrisis
    b: No, your honour
    a: license? no, we are just using it because it was there, and it is broken! Never read the license as copyright doesn't exist automatically any more!]

  6. I know someone who lost access to several thousand pounds worth of Audible recordings because there was an issue with their Amazon account and it got blocked. Amazon did remove the block eventually, but only after persistent complaining to Amazon on the issue. It was quite a scary time for him since he had been buying these books over many years, but was suddenly denied access to them. It does beg the question of exactly what you are buying and whether companies like Amazon and Apple can revoke purchases in this way. Another example of this is on the Apple App Store. I purchased an app which I found quite useful, but the app was removed from the store. When i got my new iPhone I did a new installation and lost the app forever.

  7. I've been wondering for a while whether historians will look back on this era as a "dark age" - on the one hand it is so easy to copy stuff that a lot may end up preserved by chance, but on the other hand so little care is taken of the copies (and being able to continue to use them for generations to come) that entire works may become lost forever.

    Whenever I point out that ebook licensing basically means that Google/Amazon/whoever can just decide they don't want to run that service any more and you'll lose access to your books, the response I always seem to get back it "well it doesn't matter since I won't want to reread them by that time" and completely neglects the idea that future generations might be interested in our culture.

  8. Copyright law definitely needs a rehaul, aside from the issues already raised here it also been abused to get things like bad reviews of products taken off the internet which is just blatantly wrong. I also think been used to get lets plays taken of the internet is misuse of the law, copyright is to protect from unauthorised distribution, playing a game is not distributing a game.

  9. I absolutely agree about the property rights thing. I hate to think how much I have spent on licenses to watch NCIS and it is all solely _your_ fault. :-)

  10. I suppose the length of the terms *might* benefit the author/composer/artist IF the capitalised sum they get in return for assigning the copyright were suitably increased. Vaughan-Williams is a good case in point: I look after the music in church. We don't subscribe to any of the one-stop copyright schemes, so either use royalty bearing copies (hymn book or purchased choir sheets) or music that's out of copyright.
    Vaughan-Williams inconveniently lived to a grand old age and died in the 1950s, so all his early 20th century stuff is still in copyright in Europe. So, when I wanted to use something of his that wasn't in the hymn book or available as a folio, I wrote to Oxford University Press for permission and a price. Alas, the price they wanted was more than I was prepared to pay, so we did something else (and Salve Festa Dies might have been to difficult to sing anyway). But V-W and his descendants wouldn't have benefited from the 70 year term: his copyrights will have been sold to OUP before the 70 year terms came in.


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