January 1999  

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Authors and libraries grapple with copyright problems

by Mikael B÷÷k

The new digital environment is creating a conflict between authors’ rights and citizens’ access to information. Consequently, authors’ organisations and the library community have different views on the new legislation designed to regulate the information system.

This duality emerged as a central theme in the Finnish Institute seminar about copyright issues on the Internet. The participants represented a wide range of organisations in several European countries: Finland, Sweden, Britain and France.

The seminar confirmed that the library community wants to participate in and influence the building of the information society while the authors’ organisations take a much more defensive, wait-and-see attitude.

Librarians fear that the public interest will be sacrificed on the shrine of economic profitability in the name of copyright. They see the emerging EU Directive as an attempt to regulate the power relations and the social structure of the information society.

Authors, on the other hand, fear that they will be forced to give up their rights under the pretext of serving the public interest. Authors’ organisations see the EU Directive as a strictly juridical step to protect the author’s rights in the digital environment. This pragmatic view is in contrast to the librarians’ view according to which the directive is openly political.

In spite of these differences, there is a consensus about the need to protect the rights of the author as defined in the Berne Convention. The consensus also covers the need to defend the public library as an institution of the democratic society. There is indeed agreement on the need for increased contact and co-operation between authors, librarians and concerned citizens on the issues raised by the modern information society.

One aspect of the EU Directive which came under criticism in the seminar is the way it defines ‘author’ and ‘rightholder’. According to the critics of the directive, the frequent use of the phrase ‘authors and rightholder’ blurs the important distinction between the two. The worst scenario is that the author loses his right to be the rightholder. The real rightholders will be corporations who own all information and sell it to the public by the bit and/or minute.

Mikael B÷÷k represents Katto-Meny, a Finnish Internet service provider. The other organisations represented at the seminar included the Scarman Trust, Charter 88, Statewatch, Campaign for Freedom of Information, SocietÚ des auteurs et compositeurs dramatique (France), and the Finnish Library Association. Individual participants included journalists, writers, translators and one Finnish MP.

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