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Charles Clark Memorial Lecture

William Bowes' introduction to the Charles Clark Memorial Lecture 2019

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The Publishers Association’s Director of Policy William Bowes opened proceedings on the day with an introduction of speaker Professor Daniel Gervais. You can read his remarks in full here.

Good Afternoon to you all and a warm welcome to the Charles Clark Lecture. I am extremely grateful to you for taking time out of your busy LBF schedule to attend our talk today.

And I would also like to take this moment to extend an especially warm welcome to our speaker, Daniel Gervais, Charles’ wife, Fiona and daughter Catriona, our sponsors Publishers Licensing Services and the other organisations who have made today possible, London Book Fair, CLA, The Publishers Association, The Federation of European Publishers and the International Publishers Association.

We are delighted that Daniel has agreed to give this lecture today. Professor Gervais is a specialist on international IP law and currently Milton R. Underwood Chair in Law and Director of the Vanderbilt Intellectual Property Program at Vanderbilt Law School.

His academic and professional career includes 10 years researching and addressing policy issues as a legal officer at the World Trade Organization (WTO), as head of the Copyright Projects section of the WIPO, and Deputy Secretary General of International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC), and Vice-Chair of the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations (IFRRO). He has been a visiting professor at numerous international universities and was the first North American law professor admitted to the Academy of Europe in 2012.

His talk promises to be fascinating and I am sure you will all enjoy and appreciate his insights.

Copyright and Publishing

But before handing over to him, I would like to take a moment to set today’s lecture in a wider industry context. Those of us who have had the pleasure of attending London Book Fair today will be in no doubt that content is a good thing. And those of us in the UK had further cause for celebration last week on World Book Day, which children up and down the country publicly express their love of reading and the joy that they derive from books.

And if further evidence were needed that books and reading provide huge benefits to society more generally, research conducted by the international publisher, Egmont, reveals that:

 

  • The impact of reading for pleasure on progress in vocabulary, maths and spelling with 10-16 year olds is 4 times greater than the metric often used to determine social mobility i.e. if their parent has a degree.
  • If all young children read for pleasure daily, 75% of them would reach the level at the end of primary school that predicts 5 or more passes at their key end of school exams – an increase of 8% or 112,000 children in 2017.

 

These reminders of the benefits that content can bring are particularly welcome coming just three weeks after the UK Parliament’s Culture Committee published its report into content harms. They also coincide with the 30th anniversary of Sir Tim Berners Lee’s paper on “Information Management”.

As he himself has reflected today, it is a sad irony that whilst his invention may well have led to a significant improvement in the way we order our information, it has also provided new challenges as to how we might order our society.

Digital and Copyright

Over the last 12 months, we have seen the EU DSM package move forward with a number of proposals to try and address these issues. We do not know yet whether this package will get through and even if it does whether it will achieve the stated objectives of those who have conceived and championed its passage.

But what we do know is that part of the reason copyright has provided such an enduring and successful policy backdrop for content is that it aligned the economic incentive to produce good books with the legal requirement that what they contain is fair, accurate and lawful. In other words, taking responsibility for what you published was an essential pre-condition to staying in business.

Regrettably, policy makers at the turn of this century broke that link. Suddenly, due to the limitations of liability they introduced for online uses, there was now both a legal and commercial incentive to turn a blind eye. And in that way, this quasi exception has spurned a norm where publishing without responsibility is increasingly common.

What of the future?

But as we gather today in the City whose Parliament created the first modern copyright system, I would urge us all to think positively about copyright’s strengths in a digital world, not just its shortcomings. About how it can be a positive force for good, driven by a focus on purpose, not punishment. And about how it can once again be an incentive-based tool that rewards authors and creativity, not morph into a regulatory device deployed to correct markets.

My reference back to the origins of copyright is not a call for nostalgia. Rather it is a reminder to us all that solutions to the sorts of problems we face today have been found before. As we reflect on that, we must remember that the system that Parliament created was called “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning”.

The positive policy purpose contained in that simple phase created a balanced system that drove writing, creativity, investment, and innovation that allowed us and those that came before us to fill the world with excellent books. And as they did so, they undeniably contributed to the creation of a healthier, better connected, more prosperous and more learned world.

Copyright and Digital

It would be wrong for us to think that it is “digital” that has threatened this progress. In fact, it has created opportunities to publish more and publish better. It has placed publishing at the centre of the world’s economy, society and political discourse.

But what I would suggest is a risk to the future of Publishing is if people no longer become accustomed to the process of writing and reading high-quality long-form content. That is why the recent misfortunes of those publishers that operate platforms are no cause for celebration amongst those publishers that do not. Their challenges are not an opportunity for us to wallow in the dreams of a simpler 20th-century publishing world where we predominantly sell one kind of product through one sales channel.

The Value of Publishing

Rather, they are an opportunity to make a positive case for the value of our products and services. Where print products work let us shout that from the rooftops. But where digital enables us to do better, let us celebrate that too. Where we have identified ways that Open Access CAN work, let us demonstrate to its proponents how and why that is the case, not just tell them about how their own counter-proposals might fail.

And let us explain to policymakers that the best way to ensure a society full of content goods and not content harms, is to ensure that any lawful publishing endeavour is built on investment into the twin values of quality and responsibility.

The role of Copyright

If Copyright is to have a digital future, and I am sure that it does, it must be as the reward for those who agree to create and invest in content on the basis of those values. Not the regulator for those that do not. But if that is to happen, we must be open to the possibility that the copyright of tomorrow may need to look quite different from that of today.

It is with that in mind that I am delighted to welcome Daniel Gervais to deliver this year’s Charles Clark Lecture. Daniel’s book, (Re)structuring Copyright is a thought-provoking analysis of how copyright can change and respond to the digital world that we now inhabit. And it is with that in mind that I now invite him to the stage to deliver the 2019 Charles Clark Lecture entitled “Copyright, Books and Progress”.

You can download a copy of Daniel’s slides and a full transcript of his speech will be available soon.