Only Openness Can Save Us: A Few Thoughts After CopyCamp

Tallinn Digital Summit — it simply sounds proud. The event was organized by The Estonian Presidency on 29 September 2017 and brought together EU heads of state to discuss digital challenges. Meanwhile in Warsaw, the 6th edition of CopyCamp took place. The organizers of this annual event, led by NGO Modern Poland Foundation alongside many partners, lacked the budget and media coverage in comparison with Tallinn Digital Summit, but the scope of the discussion was equally (or maybe even more) important. CopyCamp explored how exclusive rights affect various aspects of our life. And the attendees of the event were expert and diverse, including policy makers, artists, civil society activists, entrepreneurs and scholars.

Free Art License 1.3

The theme of this year’s CopyCamp was “the internet of copyrighted things”. Back in 1710, when the first copyright act was enacted (Statute of Anne), the idea of exclusive rights was limited only to traditional works of creativity. Nowadays, intellectual property is much broader and covers a wide ranging works such as areas of agriculture, medicine, and fashion. And what is more, in the era of internet of things, exclusive rights do not belong anymore to the owners of things surrounding us — as Aaron Perzanowski mentioned in his speech “if your coffee machine can refuse to make you a coffee at 6 a.m. because the software has changed, you simply don’t own it”.

For two days Warsaw became the Neverland of copyright — the place where everyone can share the vision of an ideal copyright framework. From discussing legalizing non-commercial sharing between individuals, to truly supporting creativity and artists of all types, to removing additional restrictive protections for databases, to shortening the copyright term, CopyCamp explored a variety of contemporary challenges — and some proposed solutions — to the ongoing copyright tug-of-war.

CopyCamp was a good place to remind us that, like it or not, the law still has a significant effect on the direction and speed at which our society develops. Unfortunately, poor and outdated regulations often constrain innovation and prevent the exercise of fundamental rights to access and use knowledge and creativity. One might say that the only reasonable legislative choice would be to amend those laws that are not yet adjusted to a digital and networked world. But what we are seeing now is quite the opposite: the European Union is deep in the process of “reforming” copyright, but as COMMUNIA observes, many of the proposals only try to minimize the impact of the fundamental changes brought about by digital technologies and the internet on legacy business models.

Instead of strengthening the information economy, the proposal preserves a status quo defined in the analog age. And in the process, it hinders education, research and cultural expression. For example, there was proposed a new ancillary right only for publishers, as well as a provision to require online platforms to monitor all content uploaded to their sites. These proposals can only be considered large step backward, highlighted by Raegan MacDonald from Mozilla in her speech. And instead of using “the opportunity of a generation to bring copyright in line with the digital age, and we want to do that” we witness an old-fashioned approach based on assumption that copyright can solve all economical challenges. As a result legal norms (the way we are required to act) and practise (social and technological progress) are more and more divergent.

Not only do legislators still struggle to address existing legal challenges, they also ignore some new advancements. CopyCamp participants exchanged thoughts on many new ideas, including questions about copyright ownership and sharing in the era of artificial intelligence, especially in an environment where robots are more involved in the creative process. Such question become more blurry not only in places like the art world, but also in legal services, scientific research, information technology, and transportation.

A significant challenge we face right now is the general backlash to the development (and protection of) the free and open internet. There is a danger that continuing to utilize a traditional approach to policymaking in the online world — using old legal concepts such as territorialism and exclusive rights — won’t protect freedom of information, access to knowledge, and promote creative innovation in the 21st century. CopyCamp provided a useful platform for these diverse discussions and plans for action. In a discussion about access to cancer research, Jamie Love from Knowledge Ecology International said that the only option to provide equal access to people around the world is to fundamentally change business model. We see the same concerns — and also some interesting and more radical changes — proposed in areas such as agriculture, the publishing market, and software procurement and development.

Warsaw by night,, CC0

The message coming out of CopyCamp is clear: only openness can save us. Exclusive rights without the protection and expansion of fundamental users’ rights — will not lead to social development and equity concerning intellectual property and access to knowledge. CopyCamp is unique because its speakers and participants are interested thinking about the bigger picture, and actively working on solutions with openness at its core. This is the approach we need to achieve progressive changes in public policy. Civil society will help lead the way. See you next year in Warsaw.