Transcript: The Condition Of Copyright

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Interview with Michael Healy

For podcast release Monday, June 27, 2016

KENNEALLY: In his globetrotting role as executive director, international relations for Copyright Clearance Center, Michael Healy sees close up the contribution copyright makes to the global creative economy. He also sees much that concerns him about copyright’s prospects today and in the years ahead.

Welcome to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series. I’m Christopher Kenneally for Beyond the Book. In a series of recent remarks to audiences of authors, publishers, and technologists, Michael Healy has admitted that his message on copyright may seem a downbeat one, though he assures us that there are positive signs if you know where to look. Michael Healy joins me now from his New York City office with the bad news and the good news. Welcome back to Beyond the Book, Michael.

HEALY: Thanks for having me back, Chris. It’s a great pleasure to be with you.

KENNEALLY: We’re looking forward to reviewing with you some of the latest developments in the world of copyright around the world. It’s interesting to talk a little bit about your background, because you do, as we say, quite a lot of traveling on behalf of Copyright Clearance Center – meeting with publishers, reproduction rights organizations, RROs, which are the community of representatives of authors and publishers around the world. So you hear about the state of copyright. You are not an attorney, but you practice it day to day. So very briefly and at a high level, tell us where we are in the world of copyright today.

HEALY: Amongst my responsibilities, Chris, I occasionally get invited to speak quite frequently about the condition of copyright around the globe at industry events – book fairs, conferences, and so on. The point I always try to make during such presentations is the extent to which copyright has become front-page news, if you like, is really quite remarkable. There’s been certainly a tremendous transformation during my career.

When I began in this industry, it felt to me as if copyright was an issue that was exclusively the domain, and a somewhat esoteric domain, of publishing attorneys and academics. In recent years, we’ve seen a transformation in which this topic has become, if not front-page news, then certainly a topic that all publishing executives of any seniority really have to consider. That’s one of the main messages I try to get across at these presentations – that no one can afford to be ignorant of what’s happening in courtrooms, legislatures, governments around the world as it affects copyright, because decisions, judgments, new legislation, they can have a really significant effect on a publisher’s business today.

KENNEALLY: Indeed. And the headlines that we see in this new front-page news character for copyright – the headlines aren’t necessarily good ones for those in the publishing community. There has been a shift, if you will, towards the rights and towards the interests of content users over content creators.

HEALY: I think that’s true. We hear a great deal about more and more exceptions to copyright. We hear a great deal about further limitations on copyright. There’s an awful lot of talk about the rights of content users, but not enough – in my opinion, at least – about the responsibilities of content users and the rights of those such as authors and publishers who produce content.

KENNEALLY: Indeed. Let’s begin our tour of the world. We don’t have to go very far to see some of this in action, Michael. It’s just north of the border, as they say, in Canada where there was the Copyright Modernization Act of 2012. There have been some very real and damaging effects as a result.

HEALY: You’re right. There certainly have. The act, the piece of legislation that you refer to, Chris, plus a series of judgments from the Supreme Court of Canada at around the same time, taken together have had quite a damaging effect on licensing revenues flowing from the academic and educational sectors in Canada to rights-holders not just in Canada, but elsewhere. In the years since the legislation and those judgments took effect, we ourselves at Copyright Clearance Center have seen a dramatic reduction in the amount of licensing revenue coming from those sectors that we pass on to the publishers that we represent in our programs.

I’ve spoken to many Canadian publishers large and small. Some have gone out of business as a direct consequence of that legislation. Others report what we’ve experienced, namely a dramatic reduction in revenues and sales from the educational sector north of the border.

KENNEALLY: I would imagine, Michael, that in this very global world, the Canadian publishing scene must really miss having those local publishing houses. It’s not as if they were lack for books or anything like that. There are books published all over the world. But the particularly Canadian viewpoint – the Canadian history, the Canadian voice, if you will – could be missing.

HEALY: I think that’s true. I think that’s a real danger. Canadians are rightly proud of their distinctive Canadian literary heritage, and so they should be, as are so many countries. Legislation and judgments that affect the diversity of publishing in any country, particularly in as damaging a way as we’ve seen in Canada, has to be a cause for concern, I would think.

And it’s not as if the Canadian experience is unique. We cannot simply say to reassure ourselves that this is something that’s just happened in Canada and nowhere else. Once it begins, this can be an infectious experience.

KENNEALLY: If you will, that infection is spreading. If we stay in the Americas, in the Latin American region, there are a number of countries where there have been recent government inquiries into the future of copyright, Brazil and Argentina particularly. I believe you’re most concerned with what could be even an anti-copyright agenda in Brazil.

HEALY: Yes. I think a number of well informed commentators on the Brazilian publishing scene are very, very concerned about what they hear might be coming in the way of new copyright legislation in that country. None of us have had sight yet of a piece of draft legislation that is rumored to be profoundly hostile to the interest of rights-holders. This hasn’t come before the parliament in Brazil yet. Anybody following the newspapers will know that Brazil has had bigger political challenges and controversies to deal with in recent months. But many of us do anticipate that when it does arrive, this will be another piece of national legislation that’s quite damaging to the interests of publishers and authors.

KENNEALLY: And that really matters, because Brazil is one of the so-called BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India, and China – that were the really strongly emergent economies only a few years ago. Now, there’s obviously some issues there that have nothing to do with copyright that are challenging that notion. But emerging economies in a way are the future of media and publishing, and so the role of copyright in nurturing those communities – if it’s being challenged, that’s going to challenge the whole notion that those countries can have their own independent media, independent publishing communities.

HEALY: That’s exactly right. And the infection that we were talking about elsewhere can spread very, very widely, Chris. We’ve seen draft legislation very recently in South Africa which went out for public review and comment. Again, quite worrying in terms of the impact on the businesses of rights-holders.

The Australian government through its Productivity Commission is commissioning currently a review of various parts of copyright law and other areas related to publishing rights, and there is quite an extraordinary backlash going on within the Australian publishing and author communities relating to some of the areas being explored by the Productivity Commission. This really is a global phenomenon. No question about that.

KENNEALLY: It’s interesting, Michael Healy. It’s sort of what’s in a name, isn’t it? We talk about productivity commissions, and there have been government-commissioned inquiries in the UK, for example, around innovation. They often look at copyright as a hurdle to productivity and to innovation. That is something, broadly speaking, common enough around the world – in the European area, particularly. How do you see all of that, and is that a particularly valid point, that somehow copyright hinders innovation, hinders productivity?

HEALY: I think copyright only hinders productivity if you don’t believe, as I do, that the creative industries contribute so much to the wider economy. Those creative industries, to a great degree, depend on robust protection for their intellectual property. It’s my general belief as a point of principle that if you want to encourage the contribution economically that creative industries make to not just our cultural life, but our economic well-being, then we ought to be doing as much as possible to encourage innovation, creativity from these industries, and intellectual property laws and particularly copyright play a really significant role in allowing those creative industries to flourish as they have in recent years.

KENNEALLY: And we certainly know that well in the United States. After all, Michael, copyright is in the Constitution, and it’s my belief that the founders understood a link between the future economy and innovation and promoting and encouraging authorship and inventions and so forth. They knew that a couple hundred years ago, and it seems to me the same probably true today.

But we promised people some good news, Michael Healy. Help us out there. Is there any good news? Are there signs that perhaps things are not all going in one direction, that indeed there is an opportunity to turn this around?

HEALY: I’m not sure the extent to which it can be turned around, Chris, but it is possible to find encouraging signs. Sometimes you have to find them in the oddest places. Obviously given the role that I play at Copyright Clearance Center, I tend to focus on the collective management of rights and what’s happening with the collective licensing scene around the world, and I do find it flourishing in some of the oddest places.

My work takes me, or at least takes me into relationships, in places like the Philippines and Ghana, and there we have signs of collective licensing and the collective management of rights beginning to really flourish, places where collective management and collective licensing didn’t happen at all in the past. What enables those green shoots, if you like, to spring up is usually encouragement from government that the protection of intellectual property really matters, whether that’s in the corporate sector or in the academic sector. So there are places where the signs are good for, if you like, new innovation in these areas.

There are countries around the world, too, where respect for intellectual property supported by appropriate legislation is really robust. I just came back in the last few days from South Korea, and that’s a country that is promoting respect for intellectual property and respect for copyright particularly as a cornerstone of its future economic policies going forward. That’s an extension of a development we’ve seen elsewhere in places like Singapore. So there are beacons of respect for copyright and for good practice and excellence in the management of intellectual property rights, but you do have to work very hard sometimes against what feels like a tide of bad news elsewhere.

KENNEALLY: Right. Finally, Michael, while copyright may be a legal system with roots in the 18th century, if it is going to survive in the 21st century, it’s going to need to take a new approach. One approach would be to experiment, to look at ways of licensing that would be suitable to this digital age.

HEALY: That’s right. I don’t think anyone sensible is arguing for a copyright regime that stays exactly the same when everything around it is changing. You talk about experimentation and innovation, Chris. I agree with you. If you look to a place like the UK, which recently in the last two to three years has developed a copyright hub to enable consumers and others to identify who owns a piece of intellectual property and makes it easy for them to license the rights to use that content in different contexts and so on, that’s a small example of something you are seeing more and more of now – more innovation, encouraging people not only to understand and educate themselves about copyright, but to facilitate systems, infrastructures, and so on that make it as easy to license the content you need as it is to infringe that content on the web. I think those are important developments.

KENNEALLY: Indeed. And as you see those developments continue and possibly thrive, we hope you will share those stories with us. Michael Healy is the executive director, international relations at Copyright Clearance Center – joins me on the line from New York City. Thank you so much for being on Beyond the Book, Michael.

HEALY: Great pleasure, Chris. Thank you.

KENNEALLY: Beyond the Book is produced by Copyright Clearance Center. With its subsidiaries RightsDirect in the Netherlands and Ixxus in the United Kingdom, CCC is a global leader in content workflow, document delivery, text and data mining, and rights licensing technology. You can follow Beyond the Book on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to the free podcast series on iTunes or at our website,

Our engineer and co-producer is Jeremy Brieske of Burst Marketing. I’m Christopher Kenneally. Join us again soon on Beyond the Book.

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