The issue of reforming laws in the UK concerning intellectual property especially copyright has gained some momentum in recent days.
"Make them fit for the internet age," Prime Minister David Cameron declared last November. A number of influential groups are responding to that call by urging the government to speedily implement the major recommendations of the Independent Review of Intellectual Property and Growth, chaired by Professor Ian Hargreaves who submitted his report in May, for changes to Britain's copyright law framework.
An open letter to the government published by The Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec) lobby group on July 5 adds to the pressure, demanding that the government fast-tracks some of the recommendations urgently. These would include things like permitting consumers to legally copy music from CDs they've purchased to their digital music players and other devices without fear of law-breaking.
The broad area of intellectual property, protecting people's rights and copyright law in particular is hugely complex to most people. Centuries of tradition and common law lie behind what is in place today in the UK with the geographically-based rules and regulations - hardly a good fit when much content today is digital, and certainly not based on physical geography.
Reforming such a framework - making it fit for the internet age - is no casual undertaking and will undoubtedly occupy much time and the attention of our representatives in Parliament (both domestic and European), legions of lawyers, experts and pundits alike and, of course, the owners of intellectual property whether they're big corporations, small enterprises or individuals.
It'll probably take years although piecemeal bits may be enabled sooner if the government listens to Coadec and others.
Yet there's something already in place that, at a stroke, lets IP owners and would-be content consumers alike enjoy the benefits of clear and simple guidance on the rights of someone to their intellectual property, what part or parts of those rights they're willing to let you the consumer take advantage of, under what conditions.
Isn't that what copyright law intends, broadly speaking? Making it clear who's allowed to do what with someone else's intellectual property, and defining the conditions?
We have a framework already, one that is eminently fit for the internet age. It's called Creative Commons.
Founded a decade ago, Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that offers a copyright licensing scheme for more than 50 jurisdictions (with the "legal UK" being split between England and Wales, and Scotland) that revolves around the notion of "some rights reserved" rather than "all rights reserved." It lets a content owner make clear which rights he or she reserves, and which rights are waived for the benefit of a user.
You get an easy to understand one-page explanation of rights with associated visual symbols (like this example), that explain the specifics of each Creative Commons license. This simplicity distinguishes Creative Commons from an all-rights reserved copyright: Creative Commons was invented to create a more flexible copyright model.
If Creative Commons has been around for ten years, you may wonder why it isn't more widespread in awareness let alone usage in the UK. It's not without its critics, either.
If you spend a little time looking into Creative Commons, you'll quickly see that it offers some genuine advantages to content creators to enable others to use their work while providing an easy-to-use licensing method.
It's not designed to replace traditional copyright and broader intellectual property laws but, rather, to complement them. In my view, though, a key advantage of Creative Commons is the power it gives you to just get on with it, define your permissions and publish your content. No lawyers involved!
So let the politicians get on with their jobs in reforming the big picture. Who knows, if enough people and organizations embraced the simplicity and informality of Creative Commons, it could add influence to the work of people like Professor Ian Hargreaves.
And that wouldn't be a bad thing at all. Give it a try.