These quotes from executive politicians would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago. Amidst economic hardship, the Cabinet in Ireland is seeking to boost digital industries, citing their importance to the economy. This boost is done by reducing the copyright monopoly.
The story in Silicon Republic, published today, outlines how Ireland is mulling a “radical copyright [monopoly] reform”. When you look under the hood, it doesn’t really look all that radical to the monopoly critics and pirates: Ireland is considering adopting “fair use“-type exceptions to the monopoly, and other ways to boost jobs and innovation.
But when you look a bit further under the hood, the shift in attitude is immense. The fair use clauses were always there for noncommercial use; if you went commercial, the monopoly always applied to you. What Ireland is realizing is that the copyright monopoly is hurting business. These quotes would have been absolutely unthinkable just two years ago:
“Some companies have indicated that the current copyright legislation does not cater well for the digital environment and actually creates barriers to innovation and to the establishment of new business models. […] I am determined to respond to these suggestions in a comprehensive and timely manner.”
— Richard Burton, Irish Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation
I have long argued in favor of fair use-type exceptions, but never from a business perspective. My angle has been that it is absolutely ridiculous that you can go to a European Wikipedia and look up Elvis Presley and read all about where he lived, who his parents were, and a historical record of shoe sizes, but not be able to listen to his music. You can do this on the US Wikipedia thanks to the fair use exceptions to the monopoly.
But that’s arguing for noncommercial use that doesn’t hurt marketing; it’s more from a nostalgic point of view. It’s rhetoric designed to appeal to people born in the 1940s and 50s. The quote above, copyright legislation does not cater well for the digital environment and actually creates barriers to innovation, when coming from the responsible Minister, is immensely stronger.
So while the possible reform — introducing fair use — isn’t that radical at all in itself, the shift in thinking certainly is. Never before have politicians openly conceded that the copyright monopoly is bad for business and the economy as a whole.