Big content: A story of relevance and trust

In the sharing society, copying is key to how people use content. Where does that leave the concept of copyright?

In the April 16 edition of Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad, Gina, a student of political science in Amsterdam, commented on the ban on illegal downloading. She believes that she “has the right to view Game of Thrones for free” as well as other movies, series and songs. Her response came after the verdict of the European Court that forced the Netherlands to immediately discontinue the allowance of downloading. Gina’s point of view is shared by many in her generation. The internet has transformed the way we consume and share content, and given rise to the so-called Generation C – people who care deeply about creation, curation, connection and community. Social interactions give Generation C its sense of self: constantly connected, they are what they share, like, comment or retweet. We all create a lot of content every day – we live in the time of ‘big’ content. Why not use without permission and why is it not free?

Fathers and Mothers of Gen C
Communication professionals use storytelling to build meaningful connections with their audiences. They produce a great deal of content about their organisation, their customers, users and stakeholders of their companies and networks, content to use and to share for all. All of us are overloaded with tons of information through multiple channels every second of the day. In the midst of this huge amount of content, we strive to have a meaningful conversation with each other. But can our audiences find what they really need and can they trust the content that is available all around us? One could say that communications professionals are the founding fathers and mothers of Generation C. We will therefore need to have a point of view on our role in content creation and how we embrace the changes that new generations of customers and employees introduce.

Two Schools of Thinking
In December 2013, Wolters Kluwer, a provider of insights into copyright regulations, partnered with Google and the John Adams Institute in Amsterdam to explore the increasingly complex issue of ownership of intellectual property and copyright at an expert panel in Amsterdam. To share and discuss their global perspectives, we invited experts Paul Goldstein, a professor of law at Stanford Law School in the US and a globally recognised authority on intellectual property law, and James Boyle, professor of law and co-founder of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School in the US and columnist for the Financial Times. Joining them was Bernt Hugenholtz, professor of intellectual property law and director of the Institute for Information Law at the University of Amsterdam.

Broadly speaking, copyright has two schools of thinking. On the one hand there is the utilitarian approach, which holds that society grants copyright as a means for encouraging people to produce works. This is the common law utilitarian theory of copyright. The other line of thinking is that copyright is not given as an incentive to create works, rather it is given to authors as a matter of natural right. They created this work therefore they have an entitlement to protect it. This doctrine of moral right is deeply rooted in the civil law experience, particularly in Europe. An author has the right to protect against the distortion of his work and has the right to demand that he or she be recognised as the author: the so-called right of attribution. That moral right has since been exported to more or less common law countries, but it is central to the philosophy of author’s right, or the civil law approach.
Sharing as Common Currency?
Generation C does not feel the urge to own content, not even materials they have created themselves. On the contrary, they actively want others to freely share and re-use their posts, films, photos, mashups or memes. And they are just as interested in curating as creating. Earlier this year, we spoke with Shamal Ranasinghe, who represents the perspective of Generation C. Shamal is a media entrepreneur with 18 years’ experience helping creators connect with their existing fans and promote themselves to new fans - you can find him on Twitter as @shamalman or on his blog He recently founded the startup Fluence, an app connecting artists and other creators to influencers in their fields. Fluence is a new attention marketplace where influencers, curators and experts can give the rest of the world a means to promote directly to them. Shamal is also co-founder of Topspin, a direct-to-fan marketing, management and distribution platform. He sleeps with his smartphone next to his bed and uses Twitter and Facebook to share content he finds noteworthy, educational, inspiring, or amusing, and has his own blog for longer-form reflections on topics such as art or music. “I like to consume media, then share, endorse, and advocate things,” he says. He built Topspin into a business used by over 80,000 musicians, comedians, labels, managers and film makers and he sees a clear trend: “With new technologies, the typical cycle is denial – incumbents say the new technology will never work – and then acceptance. With Topspin, there was a lot of resistance to the notion of going directly to fans. But now it has become a standard. All the people who had issues with it are now adopting it widely.” However, in a world where copying and communal creation are common currency, where does that leave copyright?

Statute of Anne
Paul Goldstein, one of the speakers at our panel discussion in December, sees copyright today as not much different from copyright at the time of its origins, which is usually placed with the Statute of Anne in England in the early 18th century. In 1710, the first copyright act provided an exclusive right to authors to control the reproduction and sale of their books. Books were the only medium for conveying content at that point. Fast-forward three centuries and copyright law around the world does exactly the same thing, albeit with a few modifications. It is the exclusive right to print the book and the exclusive right to distribute it, but it now also includes an exclusive right to perform the work in many places, to display the work, as well as to make adaptations of the work. For example, to make a French translation of an English-language work or a motion picture based on a short story. But the basic right, the exclusive right to stop other people from using your content, is exactly the same as it was three centuries ago.

The emergence of new technologies, new means of using works, has created occasions to carve out exceptions to copyright. While there have been modifications that were crafted to meet the challenges of new technologies for exploiting copyrighted works, the fundamental premise that copyright gives the creator the exclusive right to exploit his or her work has remained true for three centuries.

A Glass Half Full
Asked about his view on the future of copyright, Paul Goldstein sees two groups, the ‘copyright optimists’ and the ‘copyright pessimists’. The optimist group believes that, with the existing state of technology, we have certain exclusive rights. For example, if a new technology emerges – let us say digital video recording – the question arises: should we extend copyright to encompass the new technology? According to the optimists, the new technology should be brought under copyright as a matter of principle. The default proposition is a presumption that any time a new technology emerges copyright should be extended to encompass it.

However, people belonging to the second school of thought, the copyright pessimists, will say, “Before we extend copyright to encompass this new technology, you have to prove to me, the government, society and the legislator, that if we do not extend copyright to encompass the new technology, there will be a decrease in production of copyrighted works.”

It will be interesting to see how the point of view of Generation C will influence the balance between these two perspectives. It is however not only because communications professionals tend to be very optimistic people that I embrace the glass half full.

Starts-ups: New and Old
Wolters Kluwer has an important role in creating professional software services built around content. We develop and disseminate knowledge through multiple channels; more specifically, knowledge and information for professional users. These professional users need content they can trust 100 per cent. Lawyers, doctors and accountants all rely on high quality information because their customers, patients, and clients expect them to deliver the right answer at the right moment in the right format. They use our content tools when they have to be right. The information and knowledge tools our customers use are available on mobile platforms as well as online. This is also the world of Generation C. The discussion on sharing and using for free, downloading what you need without paying, is ultimately relevant for the entire content discussion. Creating business models around content and ensuring quality on what is available is therefore a very relevant issue for anyone who creates and uses content. Wolters Kluwer was founded by two Dutchmen that wanted to improve the quality of educational materials: in other words, a start-up more than 175 years ago. Throughout all these years, copyright has served the development of high quality content and has offered the framework for a business model for content creators.

The somewhat younger start-up Blendle, launched in the Netherlands on April 28 this year, builds upon these business models by looking to a new pricing model that might work for Generation C: pay per article and not for the entire newspaper. Today, copyright is a central value as a vehicle for organising markets in information. That’s information in a general sense: art, literature, music, technical information or business information.

Copyright in web 3.0
In the coming years, important issues such as privacy and piracy will be unavoidable and will need to be addressed by a lot of people in a meaningful way. Security is another hot topic. With that, copyright as a way to organise the market and build trust in the quality of content will become even more important. Copyright rules and how Generation C will benefit from a world with copyright will develop itself even further, towards web 3.0 and beyond. The need for relevance, reliability and quality of content is greater than it has even been. Our role is to be part of that global debate and develop our vision of how our content is appreciated by and made available to our audiences.

Caroline Wouters

Caroline Wouters heads communications and branding for Wolters Kluwer, the global leader in professional information services. Caroline has been engaged with Wolters Kluwer since 1988 in several roles. She has also been a member of the board at non-profit The Hunger Project Netherlands from 2008 to 2011. Having worked in the information industry for over 30 years, she enjoys how emerging media formats have opened up opportunities for everyone to be an active and continuous communicator in a world that is always on.