This year’s Charles Clark Memorial Lecture was, as usual, presented at the London Book Fair, but for the first time on the first day of the fair.  The keynote speaker was Andrus Ansip, Vice President of the European Commission and European Commissioner for the Digital Single Market.  Mr Ansip is Estonian; the book fair’s guest countries this year were Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

William Bowes, Director of Policy and the UK Publishers Association, welcomed the (very large) audience and introduced the speakers.  He said that currently the relationship between information and law was being hotly debated, not just in the courts, but also in popular discussion.  Copyright does not only affect the economy, but also a nation’s philosophy and style.

Anne Bergman, the President of the European Federation of Publishers, preceded Mr Ansip.  She said that Charles Clark had been actively involved in work on copyright for many years, his work culminating in the Copyright Directive (2001), which defined rights for rightsholders and also identified exceptions.  “Copyright then was not subject to an era of alternative fact.”  She said that copyright is the cornerstone of both authors’ ambitions and publishers’ investments.  “’Negotiation’ and ‘licensing’ are important words ….. after negotiation rightsholders can use content as necessary and rightsholders get creative remuneration.”

Mr Ansip said that copyright is important because it maximises access to culture for future generations.  “Culture is a way of going beyond thought and copyright is a way of going beyond borders.  It is not some kind of accessory to the European idea, but an integral part of it.”

Charles Clark Memorial Lecture poster
Poster for the 2018 lecture

He asked whether copyright law as it currently exists is fit for the digital age and concluded that “the short answer is ‘no’.”  EU copyright laws have barely evolved since the eighteenth century, long before digital publishing was a concept.  Consumer demands today are very different from what they were ten or even five years ago.  Digitisation of the back catalogue and e-books took off with an astonishing speed, although this growth has slowed now.  The Internet is the main marketplace for accessing copyrighted material.  It is important to create more opportunities for digital publishing in Europe if we want European culture to retain its worldwide importance.

The reform proposals that, led by Andrus Ansip, the European Commission has drawn up have been prepared with these issues in mind.  From a business perspective, the proposals also try to ensure that new talents and creativity are fostered.  The underlying principle is that publishers take risks by supporting new authors and deserve to be rewarded.  Authors also deserve to be rewarded.  For these reasons clear rules are needed across the value chain; and it is necessary to be more vigilant about fighting piracy.

The new proposals include the provision of special rights when negotiating with online services.  These are rights that already exist in other media industries.  One of the things that Andrus Ansip does not support is the introduction of hyperlink texts.  Another point that concerns him is that authors should be able to find out how their work is used, what levels of success it has achieved, etc.  In other words, greater transparency is needed.

With regard to exceptions, the Commission’s proposal is to create more clarity on how exceptions work for libraries, museums and archives.  This will help to give more access to knowledge as well as removing uncertainties for teachers.  Text and Data Mining [TDM] should be allowed: scholars need to be able to access large bodies of information.  Better access for TDM is at present developing only slowly, owing to the legal uncertainties which surround it.  Andrus Ansip would like to propose that in future TDM should be carried out without prior permission from the publishers concerned; but he acknowledged that there were sensitivities about this: it is not straightforward.

Turning to books, Mr Ansip said that much has been made of the impending demise of paper, but this has yet to happen, perhaps will never happen.  Books are still the main products of publishing overall, both in print and electronic format.  Perhaps methods can be found to allow both formats to continue to be feasible.  One way of doing this is to remove the imposition of VAT on e-books, something for which he has himself campaigned.

Andrus Ansip concluded by saying that new initiatives come from the most unexpected quarters: “In 2009, the actor and author Stephen Fry tweeted ‘One technology doesn’t replace another: it complements it.’ Food for thought in this digital age?”

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