Transcript: Besek On Copyright 2012

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Previewing OnCopyright 2012

June Besek, Executive Director, Kernochan Center for Law, Media and the Arts
Columbia Law School

Speaking with
Christopher Kenneally, Copyright Clearance Center

For podcast release Wednesday, March 7, 2012

BESEK: Hi, I’m June Besek. I’m the Executive Director of the Kernochan Center for Law, Media and the Arts, which is situated in Columbia Law School.

KENNEALLY: And, you know, I guess I want to ask you a question. When the faculty gets together in the lounge, when the students get together in the dining hall and they talk about copyright in 2012, what are they talking about?

BESEK: Well, it depends on the particular conversation. But often they talk about things like SOPA. That’s has been a very big topic of conversation, so what are the remedies and what can be done in terms of infringement of online? Peer-to-peer file sharing continues to be a source of great interest to the students. So those I think are the main things. But, you know, because we have quite a diverse group of classes here, they talk about a lot of things, about appropriation art, for example. We had a panel on graffiti art just this week, so what are the copyright implications of graffiti? Digital libraries is a big topic that people are talking about now.

KENNEALLY: So you people worry about who owns graffiti?

BESEK: Actually, that was our discussion, was whether graffiti can get protection, whether you can, even though graffiti may be illegally placed, can you still get copyright protection for it? You might not be able to protect graffiti against the owner of the wall, for example, but you might be able to protect it against somebody else who tried to commercially use your graffiti.

KENNEALLY: Well I think that makes an interesting point, which is the intersection of this legal world here at Columbia Law School and the world beyond the walls of the school. Does the public care enough about copyright?

BESEK: I think they don’t understand copyright in many respects. And one of the bases of copyright is that we allow people to have certain rights in the short run, because we are all the better in the long run, and often the public doesn’t really care so much about the long run.

KENNEALLY: What about your panel? You are going to have a number of people who are going to be addressing the legal aspects of copyright in the United States and globally. And you’ve got from New York University someone who really gets into the heart of the matter for the library. Tell us about that.

BESEK: Well, Carol Mandel is going to be here, and I’m sure she’ll be speaking about some of the things that libraries are doing or would like to do. Digital libraries are really an area that people are discussing very much now. The Google Books case really prompted a lot of efforts by libraries to digitize their collections, sometimes in cooperation with Google and sometimes on their own. And the extent to which they can legally digitize their collections and how they can make them available to users is a matter of some controversy right now. And eventually the law is going to have to sort that out, and the Copyright Office is very interested in that issue, as are many other people as well.

KENNEALLY: Does the law have a tough time keeping up with technology?

BESEK: I think the law definitely has a tough time keeping up with technology. Technology moves so quickly and the law is amended rather slowly. And, you know, people talk about law as sausage-making. Well, it is that. And nobody gets exactly what they want, so a lot of people don’t want to go and ask Congress to make changes, because they’re afraid that the change they seek is not what they’re going to come out with.

KENNEALLY: Well, there’s that, and does it worry you that copyright seems to be affected by invention? So, you know, we changed copyright law when the phonograph came into play, when film and all sorts of innovations in recording and capturing creativity came into play. Should we leave copyright alone and just let it sort things out on its own?

BESEK: The difficulty with leaving copyright alone and letting it sort things out on its own is that the race is not to the swift, but it’s to the most aggressive, to the people who are willing to take the most risks, perhaps the people who have the most money. And that’s not necessarily the best way to decide who is right and who is wrong in this world.

KENNEALLY: Well, you mentioned the world. We’ve got someone coming from the Copyright Office who has experience dealing with the rest of the world when it comes to copyright. Tell us about her, and about the difficulties the United States and its economy faces when it comes to copyright and the rest of the world.

BESEK: Well, Michele Woods is the Associate Register for Policy and International Affairs, and she’s going to be on the panel. And she is extremely knowledgeable about international copyright issues. The United States and other developed countries really do have a challenging time, because we are net exporters of copyrighted works, and we make money from the purchases that people in many other countries make. But with international piracy, that creates huge challenges for the United States.

At the same time, there are different challenges in terms of people now want not just international rights established, but also international exceptions. And that’s something that’s going on within WIPO, that’s the World Intellectual Property Organization that Michele is now dealing with. How to – some of the exceptions that people want are really worthy ones, but the question is whether it’s most effective to embody them in a treaty, or whether there are other ways that might be more effective in responding to the concerns that have been raised. For example, concerns about use of copyrighted works by the blind and visually impaired.

KENNEALLY: It gets complicated pretty fast. And we call it advancing the creative economy. Copyright advances economic interest?

BESEK: Well, the basis of copyright is that we will grant these rights to individuals to promote the progress of science and useful arts. Science, when the Copyright Act was passed, meant knowledge or learning. So the idea is, if you grant people the ability to profit from their works, they will create these works and further our knowledge and our learning. And I think that’s been borne out. I mean, some of the strongest industries in this country are film and music, and we do very well. But there are some serious challenges from the current technological regime, I guess I’d say, because it’s so easy to copy and it’s so easy to make available without any recompense to the creators of the work.

I think it’s important to be here because both the law and the technology move so quickly. And if you went to a conference last year, that’s not good enough to keep you up to date with what’s going on. You really need to stay on top of the issues, and I think this conference will really help in that way.

KENNEALLY: Well, we’re so happy to be coming to Kernochan Law Center. Thanks for talking to us.

BESEK: Thank you.