Copyright law is a balancing act. Like other forms of intellectual property (trademarks, designs, patents) it grants creators a temporary monopoly – time, in which to exploit their ideas and profit from them. However, the monopoly is temporary in order to ensure that the "progress of science and useful arts" (in the words of the framers of the US Constitution) continues into the future. All new creations and inventions build upon the work of the past, and accordingly new work relies for its existence upon the public right of access to culture.
The advent of the Internet has fundamentally changed the environment in which copyright operates and the relevant laws are made. Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, when the term of copyright was repeatedly extended, only specialists participated in the drafting of the law because they were the only stakeholders. The Internet has turned consumers into creators and creators into small businesses that are not necessarily mediated by large intermediaries such as record companies and publishers. The upshot is that the old approach to copyright law is no longer appropriate.
The Open Rights Group campaigns for better copyright rules that facilitate more creative engagement with culture and knowledge and open up more consumer-friendly business models and for enforcement of those rules by legitimate and proportionate means. ORG rejects the assumption made in much policy-making in this area that longer and tighter copyright is necessary for economic growth. ORG believes that instead a more flexible approach will yield greater innovation and growth.
ORG believes that more flexible copyright law can support freedom of expression, creativity, and innovation, but that aggressive enforcement of today's outdated and inflexible copyright laws undermine our privacy and freedom of expression and shut off the economic benefits of innovative uses of new technology. The Open Rights Group supports an evidence-based approach to copyright reform as the government turns its attention to updating the Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act 1988.
Both the Gowers Review, published in 2006, and the 2011 Hargreaves Report stressed the need for an evidence-based approach to copyright. Yet this has so far been sadly lacking: at a hearing on Hargreaves, civil servant Adrian Brazier, the head of the implementation team for the Digital Economy Act 2010, admitted that the government's impact assessment was not based on new or independent evidence or research, and that rightsholders did not allow detailed inspection of the methodology and workings of the evidence they offered. ORG strongly advocates a programme of research to put policy-making on a secure footing.
Rights for the public are expressed in copyright law as exceptions to the rules. ORG believes wide-ranging exceptions are needed to facilitate private use, accessibility, and the interests of education and research. ORG is particularly interested in securing an exception for parody, which presents no commercial competition to rightsholders but has great cultural value.
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