Copyright, Human Rights, Development, Privilege

Two things in particular I have been enjoying surprising people with recently. The first is that copyright is part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All right it is near the end, so fewer people will have had the stamina to read through and find it. But it’s clear and unambiguous at Article 27.

Article 27.

(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

The second surprising fact is that the UN maintains a ‘best practice’ set of music industry  contracts. Here’s their justification:

First and foremost, the fight against music piracy involves the use of contracts drafted in compliance with good professional practices. In order for music contracts to achieve their desired effect and be used on a widespread basis, artists, themselves, must be convinced of contracts’ usefulness. Therefore, UNESCO, trusted by artists from around the world due to its ceaseless efforts to promote creativity, cultural industries and cultural diversity, believed it important to produce this guidebook in order to assist artists and music professionals in overcoming their distrust of current music contracts and to provide them with information about their rights and good professional practices.

download it from here:

One of the oddest interactions in the story of UK Government fiddling with copyright came when Professor Hargreaves was challenged at a Parliamentary hearing on the assumption of the value of an exception for private copying.

The exception, covering the transfer of music to portable players for instance, had been valued in a report at £2billion, which does indeed seem a lot for what appeared to MP John Whittingdale as a technical tweak to stop normal and everyday behaviour remaining infringing. Hargreaves pointed to general confusion and ignorance about what copyright allows and forbids, and makes a fairly bland comment, ‘well it might increase confidence in the market’.

See it here at about 10m 50s

Perhaps John Whittingdale is too busy to spend the hours required rummaging around in the human rights and development literature. Perhaps he, along with many others, imagines that the UK and other developed markets are beyond the kind of concerns that our taxes promote for less fortunate societies. Perhaps he has just forgotten what it was that created our prosperity in the first place. Categorise this fault as looking down the wrong end of the telescope.

Whatever, I wish that Professor Hargreaves had had the courage under fire to point out to the politicians that all participants need confidence in our markets if they are to invest in creating value; and that music, an intangible and fragile market, needs more confidence than most in an age of non-excludability.

The billions of decisions that collectively make up the market are diffuse and complicated, so we can be sure that we will never really know how much confidence there is in the market, or whether more might deliver that extra £2b for the UK. Turn the telescope around however and look at the whole world in sufficient detail, and confidence seems to be one of the most important ingredients in the markets that support musicians and culture.

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