At the moment, the press (affectionately referred to in punditry as “old media”) has been running quite a lot of stories on the conflict between business models created in 1605 with the founding of the first newspaper., and business models created in the last few years following widespread adoption of the world wide web and the internet in general, a development which it is quite arguably not hyperbole to describe as being in the same category as the development of the printing press and the drive to extend literacy to all members of society.
These new models are inherently justified because they reflect a fundamental change in the underlying nature of the interaction between seller and buyer. In the past, the seller employed journalists to create content, the buyer then bought the newspaper or other media to consume this content, and the seller then used this transaction to sell space within the media which would otherwise contain the content the buyer sought, to third party sellers who used this space for advertising. And thus the original seller made their profit.
It is not grossly unfair to describe the advertising sold in this manner as parasitic, a point the editor of today’s Irish Examiner might do well to consider; though arguably a more charitable description would have in the past been symbiotic, as the revenue from the advertising paid for the creation of the content.
However, this business model has as a prerequisite the assumption that buyers will buy the media to access the content; if the content is available in other media then the buyer might buy that media instead, and now you have concepts such as exclusivity and copyright.
It is the argument of the adherants of the old business models that these concepts retain their full meaning and necessity in the face of newer business models, where the vast majority of the produced content is produced by the buyers themselves in a collective media which all have access to – ie. the world wide web.
This is a point which was debatable in the past, when the press ran many, many training courses for members of the public to produce content in a form which the press could readily integrate into a sellable product instead of the journalists producing every item of content in the product themselves; with the advent of widespread adoption of the web, is has become deeply debatable and by no means obvious.
When the production of content is no longer carried out by the seller, is there still a moral duty to respectthe seller’s copyright claim? The authors’ claims appear to be even more valid than before, but as in the majority of cases, the author no longer has a contract with the seller, this seems to undermine the seller’s moral rights rather than enhance them.
In Ireland, this debate is becoming pointed, perhaps not least because Ireland has no real protection in law for the common “fair use” concept seen in most of the civilised world (likewise we also lack class actions, our search warrants are functions of the Gardai rather than the Judiciary, and we have many other quaint foibles which would probably cause great concern were they to be introduced to other jurisdictions today). As such, strictly speaking, to quote a single line of a newspaper article could be seen as breaching copyright law without permission being given by the newspaper itself, though this is not regularly done because it would be economically self-destructive for the press to do on a regular basis. The law, it must be pointed out, should not rely on economics preventing widespread adoption of an unjust act; not least because economics does not prohibit individual unjust acts!
A question we need to be asking ourselves is what the fundamental underlying morality surrounding copyright and similar areas in our laws should be, rather than the question we are asking ourselves which boils down to which wording we use to enforce concepts created in the context of 1605.
Our current laws support situations which appear obviously unjust; as an example, if you write an article for a print publication wherein you cast aspersions on the good name of a group of identifiable individuals, those individuals are not permitted by law to reproduce that article in “new” media for the purposes of discussion of its merits, without permission from the person who attacked these individuals; yet if the group be sufficiently large, it is not possible to bring suit for defamation in response; and no legal definition seems to exist relating to the threshold of the size of the group.
Such a scenario is morally repugnant, yet legally supported in Ireland today (and it happens on a regular basis in all walks of life). Perhaps Minister Sherlock should consider matters such as this when drafting his next Statutory Instrument.