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Creatives slam British Council copyright report

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A British Council study into the creative industries is receiving a chilly reception from the group the Council was set out to promote - British creative industries.

The book, entitled Unbounded Freedom, is launched tomorrow with a public discussion event hosted by the Council, funded by the Foreign Office to promote British culture oversees, in London.

Subtitled A Guide to Creative Commons Thinking for Cultural Organizations, the book has an evangelical flavour, advocating the adoption of Creative Commons licenses. That's the hobbyist license adopted with enthusiasm by the internet utopians.

"It doesn't necessarily represent the views of the Council itself," a British Council spokesperson told us. "It's published by the think-tank at the British Council, and our remit is to incite debate."

It's the Council's first foray into the copyright debate, but small producers didn't find this helpful. With its unique island culture, music is one of Britain's proudest cultural exports, as well as one of its most lucrative. Alison Wenham, who represents independent music labels, told The Register the advice was well-intentioned, but other-worldly:

"We're getting fed up with proselytizing from people who have never had grit under their fingernails trying to run a creative business," she told us.

Emma Pike, director general of British Music Rights, a group that represents performers and songwriters, told us:

"To suggest that Creative Commons is the 'solution' to copyright in the digital age is to miss the point entirely," she wrote in a statement. "Creative Commons makes it easier for creators to give their work to others for free. It does nothing at all to address the much more difficult challenge that the creators and the industries that invest in them are wrestling with, which is 'how will we be paid in the digital age?'".

BMR has cautioned artists not to be swept away by the digital utopians' exuberance, and irrevocably sign away their rights. The indie labels recently banded together to scupper the €5bn merger of Sony Music and BMG, which would have seen the Big Four become an even smaller cartel of Three - an amazing victory for the little guy.

The British Council stressed that the report represents its first foray into the copyright controversy, and hopes to learn as the discussion unfolds. That's certainly the message we got too from the report's author, distinguished journalist Rosemary Bechler. Talking to us, she offered a more nuanced and rounded perspective than the utopian perspective offered in the Unbounded Freedom.

"Cultural commons thinking is throwing up new categories of culture seemingly every day," claims the report, in contrast to an immiment doomsday, where "the content industries were not secretive about their aspirations for charging for every bit of data, stamping out the used CD market, or destroying libraries through the extinction of fair use."

It's familiar territory to regular Register readers - but the dystopian perspective already feels a little dated. Many of the copyright holders more draconian or hare-brained schemes have, we can now see, turned out to be phantoms designed to scare children.

"A public bargain between producers and users has broken down as negotiation was replaced by technological locks on copyrighted material and sweeping anti-circumvention provision," the book suggests.

But negotiations continue apace, removed from the dramatic abstractions presented by the Californian technology lobby.

Both BMR and the indie labels are examining ways in which a blanket license could both legalize piracy, and at the same time ensure songwriters get paid. These parties favour a bottom-up, consensual approach. Late last year the French Parliament voted to adopt a similar model for digital media too, using a top-down approach - a "compulsory" license like the old radio tax - although the proposal failed to make it on to the statute books. And the movement certainly has the momentum. Even former RIAA chief executive Hilary Rosen has come round to the idea.

Bechler pointed out that the internet's "gift culture" had been little help to OpenDemocracy, which she'd helped found. OpenDemocracy initially offered high quality journalism on a subscription model. But no one wanted to pay.

So go easy on the Council, which does an exemplary job of promoting British culture. The first steps into new territory are always the hardest. And Creative Commons is an ingenious scheme which surely has its merits for hobbyists, amateurs and public service organizations - as we discussed in detail here. But the consensus from the people who actually make the art, is that it's peripheral to the larger, raging copyright debate.

The book is available for download here.®

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