It’s My Copy – Right?

 * Hari Kunzru, author and contributing editor of Mute magazine, led this discursive foray into the particulars, pitfalls and complex intricacies of copyright law in relation to traditional publishing models, with fellow speakers Christian Ahlert, JJ King and Caroline Michel. After listing an amusingly eclectic range of publications he had been able to download from the web, Kunzru introduced the panel who spoke in turn, sharing with the audience their informed knowledge of copyright law, opportunities presented by new types of copyright license, the implications of new technology on intellectual property and issues such as the privatisation of knowledge and corporate-owned classification systems.

Caroline Michel, MD of the William Morris Agency, spoke about her belief in protecting authorial copyright and the need to safeguard the interests of individual artists’ work at a time when creative ownership was coming under increasing threat. Michel noted that search engines such as Google were playing a key role in the establishment of instant access media and that it was impossible to predict how content would be distributed in years to come after further technological advances. Michel also spoke about the internet as a global promotions network through which users would be increasingly exposed to offers, prizes and advertising, concluding that creative industries must accept internet access to books and other mediums as a ‘hear to stay’ phenomenon which, however objectionable in some instances, should be used to best effect.

Christian Ahlert, project leader of Creative Commons England and Wales, an organisation that originated in the US, spoke about the increasing use of copyright licensing, models for intellectual property and the greater visibility of content on the internet. This was resulting in the ability to spread information more quickly and to a wider audience, especially in the case of writers unpublished through traditional methods. He argued that, in this unimpeded environment of online circulation, it was ostensibly the publishers, rather than authors, who were suffering the greatest consequences.

JJ King, an academic specialising in the politics of intellectual property, contributing editor of Mute magazine and creator of the World According to Blog on Channel 4 News, began by recounting his first experience of internet browsing and the exhilaration of accessing free information without first seeking permission, a ‘significant cultural moment’. King was interested in looking at the cultural effects of self publishing and the reproduction of intellectual property through effective networking of knowledge, arguing that the internet was a shared resource with which most large corporations and companies had no strategy to deal.

 * After further discussion and questions from the audience it was no surprise that this most controversial and complicated of discussions reached no definitive conclusion. While some felt that internet publishing provided unrestricted and instantaneous opportunities for exposure, others remained wary of authors’ diminishing grasp of authorial ownership in an increasingly gratis cyber-world of online publication.

Thank you to our panel for taking part in this highly informative and agreeably mind-boggling discussion. We hope that they will not be opposed to PEN recounting their opinions here!

Report by Alice O’Hanlon. Photograph by Andrea Pisac.

Jamie King wrote about the event for The Times, discussing how ‘the laws of copyright are being rendered meaningless by the growth of digitial technology’. Click here to read the article.

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