The proposition "Copyright is Dead, Long Live the Pirates" was put to the audience after a debate last night on intellectual property and the need to ensure creators of content are paid for their work.
The vote wasn’t reassuring for those who are keen to provide greater protection for copyrighted material in this digital era. Of the audience at Melbourne Town Hall, 49% voted for the proposition, with 36% against and 15% undecided.
The forum was organised by the Wheeler Centre, a Victorian government initiative which hosts a year-round program of talks, lectures, readings and debates. Setting the agenda, the Wheeler Centre noted, “The digital revolution is counter-intuitive to copyright. Technological change is moving too fast for adequate laws to be implemented – and for affected industries to keep pace.
“The bottom is dropping out of the Hollywood box office, while television stations are being hammered by free-falling ratings for blockbuster shows (think: Homeland). We’re watching in droves, but many of us are not paying for what we watch, and we’re too impatient to wait for traditional delivery systems.
“With such open access to information these days, how do we know where one person’s work ends and another begins? Is the very idea of intellectual property becoming a nonsense – or is it too important to give up on, for the continuing functioning of the arts and the sciences? And – the million-dollar question – how can we ensure creativity continues to pay?”
Speaking against the proposition were Lori Flekser, executive director of the Intellectual Property Awareness Foundation and general manager of the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia; Michael Fraser, Professor of Law and Director of the Communications Law Centre at UTS; and writer, broadcaster and producer Elmo Keep.
On the other side were Angela Daly, Research Fellow in the Institute for Social Research at Swinburne University of Technology; Simon Groth, the director of if: book Australia at the Queensland Writers Centre; and writer-journalist Dr Suelette Dreyfus.
Flekser asserted copyright is not dead, quoting stats for 2010-2011 which showed more than 900,000 people were employed in the copyright industries, which generated an economic value of $93.2 billion and just over $7 billion in exports.
“It’s very clear from our research that the public either do not or choose not to understand that the victims of piracy are not simply studio executives, music companies and high-profile actors and musicians,” she said.
“Blaming the business model is a lame justification – particularly while expressing reluctance to enrich industry mandarins and over-paid celebrities – a little disingenuous in the face of the obscene profits being made by people who have had nothing to do with the creation of the content.
“There’s no doubt that content creators and Internet service providers share a responsibility in providing reasonable legitimate avenues for people to access their content legally. However, the expectation of getting something for nothing should not be an acceptable by-product of the Internet.”
The debate continued on Twitter. One attendee commented, “The affirmative side argued freedom of ideas and the legal concept’s incompatibility with reality. The negative side argued ethics and entitlement. Neither side could fathom that the average person agrees with both sides equally.”
One person concluded, “It doesn't seem anyone believes copyright is dead, but everyone believes copyright needs to be re imagined in the world it now lives.”