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Charles Clark Lecture 2018: The Politics of Knowledge

11th April 2018

Andrus Ansip, Vice-President of the European Commission and European Commissioner for the Digital Single Market delivered the keynote, 'The Politics of Knowledge' at last night's Charles Clark Lecture, held annually at the London Book Fair. 

The Charles Clark Lecture is one of the most well attended events each year at the London Book Fair, bringing together leading authorities on copyright; publishers; authors; visual artists; and anybody interested in the future of copyright. The lecture is held in memory of the late copyright lawyer and expert, Charles Clark, who was a key player in the development of UK and European copyright legislation, including the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and the 1993 extension of copyright protection from 50 to 70 years after the death of an author.

William Bowes, Director of Policy & General Counsel at the Publishers Association, welcomed the audience to the lecture and introduced the themes of truth and fact, privacy and security, and how copyright affects not just our economy, but also our society and democracy itself.

Anne Bergman-Tahon, Director of the Federation of European Publishers, shared a few words about her own working relationship and friendship with Charles Clark, which began in 1992, a time before the digital age had really dawned and we were yet to hear the now all too familiar phrase, 'alternative facts'. She highlighted the trials  publishers now face in monetising content because of new technology. Using one of Charles Clark's own mantras, she proposed that 'the answer to the machine is in the machine'; publishers must utilise technology to their advantage to overcome the challenges it has brought about. 

The keynote began as Andrus Ansip asked the question, 'Has copyright law, first brought about over three centuries ago, managed to keep up with the digital age?' His answer: no. Ansip put forward that current EU copyright laws were created before the digital age had really taken off and that if we were to look at digital technology from 10, or even 5 years ago, we would be shocked at the progress made in such a short amount of time. Content distribution has dramatically changed due to technology, especially within the publishing industry, and the Digital Single Market Copyright Directive will aim to enable access to vital content while ensuring rightsholders are appropriately remunerated. 

Ansip spoke about several key areas that the Digital Single Market would seek to address:

  • Firstly, the key function of copyright is for rightsholders' works to be protected. Ansip thus stated that digital platforms making content available needed to do more to add back to the value chain, as well as to combat piracy.
  • The issue of fair payment has become a particular challenge when material is accessed digitally. New copyright reform will see publishers and authors given a stronger and fairer position when negotiating how their content is made available online.
  • It is not easy for an author to make a living solely from their works. New reform will aim to give authors more transparency to see how their content is being accessed online, helping them to understand the value of their work. 
  • There will be new exceptions for public libraries, museums, archives that will give more access to educators, ensuring that knowledge is shared equally and fairly.
  • There will also be new exceptions for text and data mining needed by scientists and researchers for important research projects. Their access to this information is vital for developing new knowledge for the benefit of society. 

Ansip concluded by commenting that when it comes to print material, much has been said about its eventual demise, and yet it has not happened. While some continue to believe that the writing is on the wall, Ansip proposed that perhaps there was a future where print and digital content can coexist and perhaps benefit one another, underlining this point with a quote from Stephen Fry,

“One technology doesn't replace another, it complements. Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by an elevator.”


About the Charles Clark Lecture 

The Charles Clark lecture is hosted by the Publishers Association, and sponsored by the Federation of European Publishers (FEP), the Publishers Licensing Society (PLS), the International Publishers Association (IPA), and the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA).