Monday, 13 September 2010

Copyright absolutists revisited: The Royal Opera House

The Lawyer carries a strange story about the excesses of intellectual property, or rather its exercise: the Royal Opera House intimidating the proprietor of an opera blog, Intermezzo with threats of legal action over photographs reproduced on the blog.

Apart from the completely OTT threats of legal proceedings, the ROH has brought ridicule upon itself because of the misspellings - "copywrite" and "consul" - and other errors in the correspondence emanating from its legal department. We all write emails in haste, but not that sort of email. As far as the merits are concerned, it seems - contrary to initial impressions - that it's not photos produced by the ROH for the use of the press the reproduction of which it objects to (surely an implied licence, if there is no express one, would cover that), and in the end it's only a couple of photos of sets, in which the set designer presumably owns the copyright, that are in dispute. Even so, fair dealing for criticism and review or reporting current events should deal with that (though reporting current events doesn't get you off the hook if the work is a photo). For criticism and review, acknowledgements are required, and perhaps Intermezzo has fallen down here too - but that's easily remedied. And by the way, Intermezzo, should you happen to read this, "fair use" is an American copyright concept - don't given your opponents a chance to have have a cheap shot back at you!

I'm reminded of another story about which I posted some time ago, where a copyright owner behaved as if copyright (I think they could at least spell it) was some sort of absolute monopoly. I suppose I should be pleased that there is still such ignorance about basic principles of intellectual property law: it might keep me gainfully employed.

Of course, the most bizarre aspect of the whole episode is an institution - one that is trying to persuade the world that it isn't stuck-up and elitist - hammering one of its most effective supporters. Judging by the comments, it could have lost itself a lot of custom. I've patronised the place once, back in the days before we had school fees to pay: now that I might be able to afford an occasional night at the opera I'll be inclined to find another house, or stick to orchestral or chamber music, just as I will avoid buying the products of others whose use of their intellectual property is oppressive, anticompetitive or avaricious.

1 comment:

Bob Cumbow said...

Thanks for the "monopoly" comment. I've been at pains to try to stop some of my US colleagues from regarding IP rights as "monopoly" rights. I tell them the right to exclude is not the same as the right to prevent competition. I use this example: The fact that Stephen King is the only one who can write, reproduce, and profit from a Stephen King novel is not a monopoly. If he were the only one who could write, sell, and profit from a horror novel, THAT would be a monopoly.


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