Sunday, March 28, 2010

Copyright Infringement: Who knows best?

As we are about to get the UK Digital Bill pushed through parliament by use a government ‘wash up’, we looked across to France to see how they have faired with their ‘three strikes law’.

France's recent disconnection law has still to cut off it first P2P pirate, but according to a team of French researchers who affiliated with the University of Rennes, online copyright infringement is down on P2P networks. However, they also claim that copyright infringement is up in other areas such as online streaming and one-click download services like Rapidshare. A report on the research by Ars Technica , claims that since the law was passed, the total people infringing has actually increased by 3%.

The research was based on 2,000 phone surveys in Brittany and claims that 15% of P2P users have already stopped using the networks, but found that over 60% of those former P2P users had simply migrated to alternative illegal streaming sites and HTTP-based download services. The cultural change expected by adoption of the Daconian ‘stick’ approach has apparently failed to address the fundamental problem and merely made consumers turn to other sources. The problem is not in enforcing the law, but in educating consumers and providing a market of ‘give and take’. It like soft drugs you don’t lock up the casual user, you target the source and face the reality that a certain amount of tolerance is required. Copyright infringement will never be a zero tolerant zone in a digital world.

The research backs up what recent the BBC Panorama report in claiming that pirate users are also regular digital music or video buyers and not everything they download is illegal. This is even more a reason to not criminalise users, but to look to ways in which to strike a compromise and gain and share a level of common understanding. To often we find its commercial bodies who drive the draconian measures, only to find that they alienate and don’t work.

We were surprised at the pages of comments on the Ars Technica article and perhaps these start to show the divide in thinking between the sides. It is alarming how easy it is to drive consumers into a position which many on the other side don’t accept or understand. This cultural gap was further amplified in another article about French language comics and a term we had not heard before ‘Scanlations’. Scanlations are the unauthorized scans , translations, editing and distribution of comics. The practice is often used to take Japanese (manga), Korean (manhwa) and Chinese (manhua) comics and make them available on the web for free. The issue is that the copyright is infringed and the problem is significant with sites being openly embraced in the western readers and now evenly openly available via mobile apps. The opportunity arose due to the general lack of Japanese manga releases outside of Japan and that importing manga directly from Japan was expensive and required knowledge of Japanese language and culture to understand the originals and translate then for western youth.

Now some 750 French-language comics authors and creators have signed a declaration to stop granting digital rights to their publishers until digital industry models are established and the broader issues of copyright infringement are addressed. This was reported by Icarus Publishing in an article ‘Why should publishers pay for digital rights?’ and reference a very informative article by Jason Thompson, ’How To Illegally Read Manga Anywhere: The iPhone Manga Wars of 2010’

However as with the Ars Techinca article we were surprised at the volume and strength of comments on the Thompson article. It clearly indicates that we have a growing digital divide and one that needs to be listened to and understood if we are to avoid creating a wider chasm between users of digital stuff.

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