Campaigners back call for DRM debate

The Open Rights Group has agreed with MP Derek Wyatt that the British Library should organise the DRM debate, but disagrees with his call for a European Internet governance body
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

An MP's suggestion that the British Library moderate the debate over digital rights management (DRM) and copyright law has been welcomed by cyber rights campaigners.

Suw Charman, executive director of The Open Rights Group, said on Wednesday that the British Library would be "an excellent facilitator" of DRM debate.

"There definitely needs to be a wider debate around DRM. Libraries understand copyright in great detail, and the British Library especially has a great deal of experience in the nuances of DRM and copyright law. It would be a fantastic facilitator of public debate," Charman told ZDNet UK.

The British Library seemed surprised at MP Derek Wyatt's suggestion on Tuesday that it lead the debate on DRM and present results to government, but has indicated its willingness to "play a part".

"The library will maintain a balanced view between extremes in debates on rights protection," Lynne Brindley, chief executive of the British Library, told the Westminster eForum on DRM. "A healthy creative economy needs an intellectual-property framework that rewards creativity," Brindley added.

Charman agreed with Wyatt's assertion that copyright often doesn't benefit the creator.

"The music industry is lobbying very loudly for the extension of copyright law, and would overjoyed if it was extended to 95 years. They claim the musician would benefit, but the biggest beneficiaries would be the music industry themselves," said Charman.

"We have to make sure we don't bow to spurious arguments by companies with vested interests," Charman added. "We definitely shouldn't bow to industry moves towards copyright legislation that will compel governments to police industry interests."

But music industry representatives reacted angrily to suggestions that the industry exploited artists, and bit back saying those calling for "free music" were only serving their own interests.

"The system is set up so money goes to the creator. The music industry isn't a scam," said Jeremy Fabinyi, executive director of the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society, a royalty collection organisation.

"The pressure for free music comes from those who want to sell their [music download] services on the Internet," Fabinyi added.

Charman said that technology was changing the nature of business and creativity, and that the music industry needs to wake up to this. "The next generation see the Internet in a different way. Kids don't see any problem with P2P, sharing songs and mash-ups. Now we have the tools to take original work and rework it, which is a natural part of human creativity. There is no creation in a vacuum — people are inspired by what came before," said Charman.

Wyatt also broached the subject of Internet governance.

"We need a new governance body that isn't governmental, as it gets constipated. Twentieth century organisations like the UN and WTO are out of touch — we need new organisations," said Wyatt.

Wyatt said that this body should consist of representatives of business, consumer groups, academics, and politicians from across Europe.

But the Open Rights Group disagreed with Wyatt, warning that Internet governance could affect civil liberties.

"This is tackling the wrong question. It's not who should govern the Internet, but which aspects of the Internet need governance? I don't think anyone would argue that online child pornography should be tolerated, but we have to be careful we don't sacrifice freedom of speech and expression," said Charman.

The Open Rights Group said that having different groups in an Internet governance body may be counterproductive.

"It's an interesting suggestion because each of the groups would have differing agendas. It would pull in different directions, and not all of them would have the technical knowledge necessary to govern the Internet," said Charman.

"I'm not convinced that politicians have the ability or time to understand technical nuances, so having them in charge of the Internet would worry me," Charman added.

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