Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Copyright. Patented in Ireland.

The Statute of Anne came into force on the 10th April 1709 (303 years ago today). I mention this as it’s seen as the cornerstone of the anglo-saxon model of copyright (often contrasted with the more continental approach to intellectual property) and it’s a subject that I’m having to think about quite a lot in the course of my work.

I mentioned this to my mother recently. It’s very rare that I discuss anything with her without her finding some Irish connection – usually a connection with Mayo, or – if possible – a connection with the small north-western portion of that county.

I figured the idea of copyright couldn’t have been conceived by some fella from Tallaghan Bawn or anything like that. And, in this case it wasn't. But she was, obviously, happy to correct me any 'copyright wasn't an Irish idea in the first place' misconceptions I may have had:

“The first historic mention of Copyright, which set the universal precedent, can be traced to 6th Century Celtic Ireland. It is contained in a judgement of Diarmaid, High King of Ireland – the legal equivalent of today’s Supreme Court – in his finding against the Christian missionary Columba, founder of monastic rule, later canonised as Saint Columcille, who had become and incorrigible plagiarist......
....The High King took that well-founded legal precedent and extended it in his famous judgement against Columcille thus:
“As to every Cow its Calf, so to every Book its Copy.””

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Media Mess

In today's Observer, Julie Burchill - perceptive and pithy as ever - brings the consequences of the media's failure to adapt to a changing world into sharp focus;
"Fewer than one in 10 British children attends fee-paying schools, yet more than 60% of chart acts have been privately educated, according to Word magazine, compared with 1% 20 years ago. Similarly, other jobs that previously provided bright, working-class kids with escape routes – from modelling to journalism – have been colonised by the middle and upper classes and by the spawn of those who already hold sway in those professions. The spectacle of some smug, mediocre columnista who would definitely not have their job if their mummy or daddy hadn't been in the newspaper racket advising working-class kids to study hard at school, get a "proper" job and not place their faith in TV talent shows is one of the more repulsive minor crimes of our time."

Where the sort of Bishops that get invited onto Newsnight have chosen to wring their hands over the bad behaviour of News of the World hacks, the infinitely bigger problem of how creativity and journalism is funded is largely ignored. The superficial moral malaise is but the product of a bigger, nastier structural one.

Churnalism is, after all, largely a product of under-funding and a failure to ensure that journalism has a well-invested future. The dominance of trust-funded kids in music, theatre, film and broadcasting reflects an industry that would rather live on the short-term charity of posh parents than invest in a long-term future in which talent rises on merit rather than on a feudal ability to buy your way into a profession.

Short term dividends to shareholders and sky-high salaries to managers trumps any public interest in journalism.

If we really imagine that we'll have a world-beating broadcasting settlement, a high standard of journalism to counter our low democratic/constitutional settlement, or a film industry that makes great movies / attracts inward investment*, we're just kidding ourselves. Where Julie Burchill highlights our poisonous tolerance of everying that Monarchy implies, this is the price we pay, both in terms of economic value and democratic scrutiny.
A rare exception can be seen over on Open Democracy, but even then, Angela Phillips solutions lack flesh or any sense that the injunction to follow the money is usually good advice.

Why is no-one asking this question:
The demand for content is burgeoning. The amount of money going into the digital economy is multiplying at a rate of knots. So why are 'content creators' scuffling for cash? Why can't newspapers pay for journalism? Why are theatres and TV producers so reliant upon interns?

Or more succinctly, where is the money going?

A recent report by Vodafone (pdf) illustrates the tiny revenues – around two per cent – that 'rights-­holders' make from this burgeoning marketplace as well as showing the huge percentages of online traffic that are taken up by the streaming of high-­quality content. It's very fashionable to stick two fingers up to 'rights-holders' (trans: The Man, EMI, the MPAA, even News Corp etc), and there's a great deal wrong with the way that they appropriate and distort creativity, but for now, the fact that a handful of media monopolies - whether it's Samsung, Apple, Google, or BT - are making a fortune adding value to content, is a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance.

Until we can lose our Anglo-Saxon cultural cringe about hardware levies, it's a sin that will largely be ignored. But I doubt if the whole question is one that has even appeared in the periphral vision of most UK journalists.

The copyright debate is an important one. I don't think that most journalists understand it. I don't think they're atuned to the political sideshows that deprive them of their professional incomes and allow their professions to enjoy any integrity. As a related sideshow, the moral rights of journalists are hugely undervalued in this country. I doubt if Lord Leveson would be holding an inquiry if this were not the case.

The media is in a mess. It's workers don't really have any sense of where their incomes should come from. It's quite ironic that a profession whose flag is carried by an investigative branch know so little about what economic value they create - and how little of it that they personally harvest.
*Delete depending upon which side of the price of everything/value of nothing divide you fall