Making the connections @ Computer Law ‘06

This week, I’ve been attending the World Computer Law Conference in Edinburgh (hosted by the AHRC Research Centre for Studies in IP and Technology Law). Earlier this week, we had the first GikII workshop (say it geeky; read as a combination of geek and II as in BailII or AustLII or so on….). The workshop was fantastic (there’s a list of papers at the link; my notes are (ironically) mainly handwritten, but I’ll try to make something of them at the weekend) and the conference is still going on.

This morning, we had an interesting session! The first speaker was Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa – familiar to those who follow Internet and copyright legal matters, especially in Canada, and whose blog is frequently cited or linked to from this place. His presentation was fast-paced and visual (slides clicking by every few seconds – how I’d love to present but never quite pulled off!) and covered familiar ground (to me, anyway) on Sam Bulte (the much lamented Canadian MP for Record Companies and North Hollywood), copyright reform, the diversity of Web content, and much more besides. The entirely non-Canadian audience enjoyed it a lot, as did I, despite the familiarity of much of the history. An excellent presentation.

This was followed, double-feature style, by Nic Garnett…

Mr. Garnett is no doubt earning a pretty packet as a consultant; he runs an outfit called Interight (just one R, to be sure!). What do they do? This convergence of law and technology is especially evident in the field of digital content. But although, law and technology are converging, they don’t connect. Interight.com exists to help all the players in the digital content value chain to make that connection.

Speaking of making connections, you might also wish to know that his background is in the development of DRM (digital rights management) technologies and prior to that, working as a leading figure in the IFPI – the International Federation of Phonographic Industries (think of your friendly neighbourhood fan-sueing artist-screwing association of record companies, and multiply…). WIPO says that he “played an important part in assisting with the global development of copyright” and interacted frequently with the Chinese authorities in the development of the Chinese copyright system and the efforts to deal with piracy in China.

Anyway, Nic’s presentation was based around a report he wrote – commissioned by WIPO – entitled Automated Rights Management Systems and Copyright Limitations and Exceptions. Yes folks, that’s a MS Word .doc format. Ah, the irony.

It’s an interesting report, and the presentation was informative. However, I have concerns – which I raised during the Q&A – on the process through which WIPO appoints (through what seemed to be informal processes, according to the speaker) someone who has (acceptable and valid) views, past experiences and economic interests in the DRM/TPM markets. I argued that the very arguments made by Geist in the first show of the morning, that new stakeholders and interests were often excluded from copyright reform (especially in the behind-the-scenes way of doing things), were borne out by his selection as the author of the objective report on rights management technologies.

In the back-and-forth with Mr. Garnett, I acknowledged that there was no suggestion of bias or unfairness in his report. A few moments later, though, I did notice this gem in his report, which I immediately shared with those seated around me, and now also wish to share with the ten of you who read this:

Creative Commons was officially launched in 2001. Lawrence Lessig, the founder and chairman of Creative Commons, started the organization as an additional method of achieving the goals of the case Eldred v. Ashcroft, which was adjudicated by the United States of America Supreme Court. The initial set of Creative Commons licences was published on December 16, 2002.

I’m sure the many people involved in the excellent Creative Commons projects, including Lessig himself, would be most surprised to know that the objective view on CC is that it was founded to achieve the goals of the (unsuccessful, and much narrower) Eldred case (on copyright term limits). Garnett mentioned in his speech that he hadn’t done much research on CC (that much is obvious) but that he had his concerns about it. If this is what WIPO is being told by its experts, why should we be surprised at the pro-established-industries results?

This is not a personal attack. It is, though, an illustration of the ongoing inability of international organisations to deal with anything other than their preconceived notions of who the ‘experts’ are. User rights and alternative models (social, economic, regulatory or whatever) cannot just form a part of open consultations, but must form a realistic part of all processes – including the selection of consultants in smoke-filled rooms (none of that in Scotland, though).

Further commentary from a_cubed, the other Nic and Ian Brown. All of whom have more detail on what was said!

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