Fair Dealing Fine-Tuned: Artmob Pilots New Initiative

Mark Kohras is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

On 13 January 2011, the Artmob research project hosted a demonstration of the beta version of their software. Members of the community were invited to provide feedback on the intellectual property principles the software attempts to address. The software seeks to focus on a key component of fair dealing: attribution.

Under Section 29 of the Copyright Act, “fair dealing for the purposes of private study, research, news reporting, criticism or review does not infringe copyright”. However, news reporting, criticism and review require an additional component of attribution in order to qualify for protection. Fair dealers must cite the source and, if given in the source, the author, performer, maker or broadcaster of the work in question.

This can be more complicated than it may seem. For example, this video of a poetry reading has seven different rights associated with it: the maker of the video, the performer performing the reading, and five separate authors of a literary work (one for each poem). Artmob allows for the complex attribution of multiple rights embodied in a digital work. This enables content users to credit everyone involved in a work, from rights holders who own a copyright or licence associated with a work, to the multiple performers, authors, makers, etc. who were involved with its creation.

The software also incorporates a powerful social networking function. Aside from simply allowing comments on the videos, Artmob actively encourages users to submit updates to the rights management information associated with digital works. It is hoped that this will aid in discovering the identity of those involved in the creation of a work in cases where the record is incomplete.

Artmob also intends to use its social networking features to facilitate a dialogue between rights holders and the public. The system can incorporate the licence terms a rights holder has associated with a particular work, and provide the opportunity for direct communication between rights holders and potential licensees. This open communication system makes it easier to contact rights holders, thereby increasing access to copyrighted works.

Rights management technologies are becoming increasingly important in the digital age. The internet age is about innovation, but it is also about speed and efficiency. Two decades ago, if I wanted to read a book or listen to a new song I had to drive to the store and purchase it. Today I can purchase a book on Amazon or a song on iTunes and it can be delivered to me instantly over 3G wireless almost anywhere in the world. Sometimes in our haste, important steps are bypassed in the name of expediency. As a society we must ensure we don’t overlook our valued creators of Canadian culture in our rush for instant gratification.

The government has always recognized the need for attribution. Section 14.1(1) of the Copyright Act enshrines the moral right of attribution for authors. Bill C-32 will take this a step further, extending the moral right of attribution to performers. Bill C-32 also recognises the importance of rights management information in digital works by making it illegal to “knowingly remove or alter any rights management information in electronic form without the consent of the owner of the copyright… if the person knows or should have known that the removal or alteration will facilitate or conceal any infringement of the owner’s copyright…”.

Attribution is an important part of copyright. Not only does it enable authors to achieve the recognition they deserve, it also provides future users of works with the knowledge of who to contact to commission similar works or to license works already in existence. This enables us, as users of works, to build upon our cultural history instead of allowing it to fade into obscurity.

For more information on the Artmob beta launch event or to see a demo of the Artmob software, please visit this website.

  1. Excellent summary Mark. Your point about instant gratification being enabled through information and communication technologies also underscores the need for technological approaches to getting more Canadian culture online. The internet is the primary (and sometimes only) information source for many people. A deficit of Canadian culture online can imperil the very cultural forms protected by copyright. Cultural activities in the visual arts and dramatic theatre don’t generate the rich ‘aftermarket’ of consumer goods that music, television, cinema, and publishing do, and as a result limit accessibility to culture. Digital archives and cultural collections can mitigate this situation.

    Incomplete cultural records are a key problem that we are attempting to address in novel ways. In the example of Christian Bök’s reading, the performance is recent and the works are known. However many cultural works that are of interest to arts communities and the public can be far more complicated to license, particularly when they are created for secondary purposes such as marketing and promotion. Think, for instance of composite works such as theatre programs, promotional posters, or of audience video footage of cultural events like Caribana.

    Institutional conservatism can be a substantial factor in determining what is available online. An attribution system that provides a “middle way” between an all or nothing approach to licensing may soften clearance policies and permit the reproduction of orphan works that have been almost entirely – but not completely – licensed. This alone could make a big difference in the scope and quality of Canadian culture accessible online.

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