Meera Nair

fair use denied — part III

In Posts on February 24, 2016 at 5:32 am

For earlier installments of fair use denied, a story of wildest dreamssee Part I and Part II.

III. of play and progress

Fair use’s flexible language is often lauded as the reason behind the United States’ enviable record of innovation. As a consequence, other countries view a flexible exception as a style worth emulating.[1] However, such adoration of fair use overlooks one vital aspect of creative success—the process which leads to a creative mind. And while we cannot definitively prescribe that process, we can situate the process within the atmosphere of intellectual property.

The conventional premise of intellectual property rights is that such rights enhance the likelihood of creative effort by assuring individuals that their work will not be for naught. Yet the asserted causality between advances in art, science and technology, and heightened levels of intellectual property protection, may be more rhetoric than substance.[2] History offers compelling illustration of creative epochs which were accompanied by little or no intellectual property protections.[3]

Taking our cue from history, it is reasonable to assert that the process of creativity is affected by the ability of individuals to engage with existing/past creations; that is, to act freely upon informal or casual creative impulses. Such freedom is not something that may be turned on or off at will, it is an internal instinct shaped by the surrounding culture of thought. The capacity to let one’s mind roam, to see something that others do not, to explore without conscious objective–to embark upon play—is essential to developing the creative process.

This theme was articulated by Julie Cohen more than a decade ago. While eschewing the proposition that exceptions are users’ rights, Cohen emphasizes that any theory of authors’ rights must be informed by an accompanying theory of the user. Cohen writes: “Both copyright law and policy have shown little interest in understanding the processes by which these roles are performed, nor in inquiring what users need to perform their roles in a way that optimizes the performance of the copyright system as a whole (348).”[4]

Denoting the user as a “situated user”, Cohen makes plain that appropriation of pre-existing cultural goods are part and parcel of the self-development of individuals. The path to creativity includes consuming pre-existing works in a variety of ways. From the humble copy, to reworking that copy, to a seemingly original creation, the route to creativity necessarily includes those intermediary destinations. The stimuli that provoke eventual creative activity are varied; friends, family, teachers, formal and informal learning, advertising, popular culture – all contribute to an awareness of existing cultural goods. Exposure to, and re-communication of those goods, might provoke only a fleeting, partial inspiration which will not take tangible form for many years to come. But for that eventual, socially-prized, creation to come into being, the system of copyright must protect what Cohen describes as play of culture:

… process by which culture bends and folds unpredictably, bringing new groups, artifacts and practices into unexpected juxtaposition.  … [It] emerges from the full spectrum of behaviour of situated users. Consumption, communication, self-development, and creative play, merge and blur into one another, and the play of culture is the result (373).

An overt consciousness of the supposed-illegality of using others’ works must condemn future society to a very narrow realm of creative discovery. Whereas, if individuals are free to explore with the enthusiasm of play, the capacity to foster ideas and cause development in ways that cannot be predicted, is heightened.

But “the Child is father of the Man;”[5] to carry the sense of play into adulthood, it needs first to be protected in childhood. Part IV continues tomorrow.

 

Notes

[1] In 2007, Israel imported much of American fair use into its domestic law. “(a) Fair use of a work is permitted for purposes such as: private study, research, criticism, review, journalistic reporting, quotation, or instruction and examination by an educational institution. ­­­(b) In determining whether a use made of a work is fair within the meaning of this section the factors to be considered shall include, inter alia, all of the following: (1) The purpose and character of the use; (2) The character of the work used; (3) The scope of the use, quantitatively and qualitatively, in relation to the work as a whole; (4) The impact of the use on the value of the work and its potential market. (c) The Minister may make regulations prescribing conditions under which a use shall be deemed a fair use;” see Copyright Act [Isr.], 5768-2007, 2007 LSI 34 (2007) at § 19.
In 2011, Ireland’s Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation sought submissions concerning copyright amendment, with an express interest in examining “ …US style ‘fair use’ doctrine to see if it would be appropriate in an Irish/EU context.” Interestingly enough, the terms also stated that if suitable changes were not possible under the current constraints of EU copyright directives, Ireland would make recommendations for changes to those EU directives. <http://www.deti.ie/science/ipr/copyright_review_2011.htm> website no longer available. However, press coverage remains; see John Kennedy, “Radical copyright reform law to boost Ireland’s digital economy?” SiliconRepublic 9 May 2011.
Also in 2011, the Government of the United Kingdom explored fair use fulsomely. While electing to refrain from moving forward with a flexible exception (a decision influenced by strong opposition from the creative industries), it publicly acknowledged the merits of a flexible exception; see Ian Hargreaves, Digital Opportunity—A Review of Intellectual Property and Growth, May 2011.
Meanwhile, in a gentle progression of events which began in 2002, Canada has quietly erased the rigidity of fair dealing and brought it very close to fair use. See Michael Geist, “Fairness Found – How Canada Quietly Shifted from Fair Dealing to Fair Use,” The Copyright Pentalogy: How the Supreme Court of Canada Shook The Foundations of Canadian Copyright Law (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2013). Another Canadian asset in terms of flexibility is its exception for non-commercial user-generated content; for details see Peter K. Yu, “Can the Canadian UGC Exception Be Transplanted Abroad?”(2014) Intellectual Property Journal 26 175-203.

[2] Calls to remove or lighten the prevailing structure of copyright are routine today; but those calls originated over one century ago. The presumption that monopoly rights were the best mechanism to support creative endeavor was so contentious that a Royal Commission ordered examination of the issue in the late 19th century. While the Commissioners ultimately kept the monopoly structure, opinions were diverse and heated; see Paul Saint-Amour, The Copywrights: Intellectual Property and the Literary Imagination (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003).

[3] Meera Nair, “Fair Dealing at a Crossroads” in ed. Michael Geist, From Radical Extremism to Balanced Copyright—Canadian Copyright and the Digital Agenda (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2010) 90 at 91.

[4] Julie Cohen, “The Place of the User in Copyright Law” (2005) Vol 74 Fordham Law Review p.348.  The lack of genuine interest in users continue today; policy makers provide lip-service attention to the necessity of balance in the system of copyright but refrain from actively supporting it. See Michael Geist’s analysis of the difference between implementation of rights of owners and rights of users as drafted in the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.

[5] William Wordsworth, “My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold”, The Complete Poetical Works (introduction by John Worley) (London: Macmillan, 1888).

  1. […] Meera Nair on Fair Duty blog, “Fair Use Denied—Part III” […]

  2. […] Meera Nair on Fair Duty blog, “Fair Use Denied—Part III” […]

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