Wednesday, November 1, 2006

The Intellectual Cost of Copyright: British Academy Assesses Impact of Fair Use Restrictions on Research

The Library Journal covers a new report (PDF) from the British Academy on how the push towards DRM and licensing content via databases is putting the crunch on research in the U.K. The whole report is a very good read, but if you're strapped for time here are a few key portions that speak for themselves quite eloquently:
The findings of our various consultations showed that there was a lack of clarity about the nature and scope of the moral and economic aspects of copyright, and the two are frequently confused. The moral rights of the author relate to respect for his or her creative activity while the economic rights of the rights holder relate to the economic interests in commercial exploitation. While both kinds of rights are important, it should not be taken for granted that the scope of the moral rights of the author should be identical with the economic interests of the rights holder, and distinct issues are involved with the exercise of each right. Copyright must not become censorship: this is inconsistent with requirements of free speech and the stimulation of creative activity and with the broader public purposes that copyright is designed to advance.
This on the impact of DRM on research:
Given the importance of databases to academic research and the growing amount of work that is being published electronically, it is important that academic researchers are able to access this material, whether through fair dealing exceptions, or on reasonable terms. However, the development of specialist technologies (DRMs) is threatening to inhibit access for the purposes of academic research even where fair dealing exceptions are applicable or, indeed, the basic material is out of copyright. DRMs are making access available only in return for payment and are locking away valuable material, because they can over-ride both fair dealing exceptions and the term of copyright. "The technologies are extending beyond the law they are supposed to uphold."
And this from the conclusion of the report:
Whilst copyright law provides specific exemptions to enable creative and scholarly work to advance, our findings show that these exemptions are in some cases not achieving their objectives, because the scope of the provisions are increasingly narrowly interpreted... [The] distinction [between commercial and academic use] has now broken down because copyright holders are actively looking to maximise the revenues from copyright material, and are demanding high fees for its use; and publishers are insisting that unnecessary permissions nevertheless be obtained, since they are becoming increasingly risk averse and are not prepared to stand up to unreasonable demands from copyright holders.
Publishers of scholarly works face a true dilemma. If copyright holders insist on driving up the cost of acquiring content for research purposes and hobbling fair use then they are going to raise the cost of doing that research at academic institutions and therefore lower the amount of research being done. In effect research institutions holding copyrights are all taxing one another in an effort to try to turn their research insights into revenues to fund more research but driving up the cost of sharing ideas that could spur new research in the first place. We're at more or less the worst intersection of licensing paradigms established by subscription database services and of traditional print pricing.

With a captive audience forced to play by the rules of juried publications, scholarly publishers are in effect taxing national economies who play by these rules. No small wonder, then that one of the report's key recommendations is to have the U.K. government step in and regulate the licensing of scholarly content. Hopefully the scholarly publishing industry can come to a better conclusion on their own. But with emerging markets such as China and India beginning to become research powers in their own right the nations that have been sponsoring scholarly publishing services up to now may find that they have more to lose in intellectual prowess to these developing nations if they don't step up support for more open access to scholarly research some time soon.
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