A #WorldIPDay Special Interview: CopyrightUser.org’s Bartolomeo Meletti

In celebration of #WorldIPDay, Anthony Rosborough (LLM Candidate in the Intellectual Property & The Digital Economy Programme at the University of Glasgow) sat down with Bartolomeo Meletti (Creative Director of CopyrightUser.org) to discuss how CopyrightUser.org is making copyright law accessible and understandable to creators and users.

The following is a transcript of the interview:

ANTHONY: Hello Bartolomeo, thank you so much for this interview! Perhaps you could tell us a bit about yourself?

BARTOLOMEO: Thank you very much for inviting me. I work for the CREATe Centre here at the University of Glasgow as Creative Director of CopyrightUser.org. I do research in the field of copyright and produce multimedia content which tries to make UK copyright law accessible to creators and other copyright users.

ANTHONY: It’s great to have the opportunity to speak with you. How did you become interested in Copyright?

BARTOLOMEO: It was from a practical perspective. I started as an undergraduate law student. I did a course on Intellectual Property which I found interesting, but I became really interested in Copyright through my Masters which was in Mass Media and Politics. What I did back then was I produced a historical documentary about the first socialist member of the Italian Parliament, Andrea Costa. The film was based on a novel and some of the materials I wanted to use included old photographs, footage, newspaper articles, etc. It was basically thinking about how can I use these materials? I started asking myself a lot of questions, and I ended up doing my dissertation on copyright and creative use. That’s how I got interested in the topic.

ANTHONY: What do you think is the most under-rated IP issue today?

BARTOLOMEO: The role that creative practice can play in defining certain ambiguous concepts. In particular, in relation to copyright exceptions, quotation and what that means. I think that creative practice can play a role in defining that concept and also the extent and scope of the exception.

ANTHONY: What do you mean by creative practice?

BARTOLOMEO: How people actually quote existing works. There is now the quotation exception that in the UK applies to any type of work and, unlike any other UK exceptions, is not linked to a specific purpose. We all understand what quotation in text means, but it’s hard to understand what that means in film or art. Scholars like Professor Lionel Bently from the University of Cambridge are investigating how experts in different creative and cultural fields define ‘quotation’. I think it would also be interesting to try to capture how today’s filmmakers, visual artists and other creators are interpreting the concept of quotation in their current creative practice, with a view to identifying and codifying best practices.

ANTHONY: There are obviously a lot of websites out there with information about Copyright, but what space is CopyrightUser.org looking to fill?

BARTOLOMEO: It is true that there are a lot of other websites with copyright information, but one of the main reasons we started this was that while research indicated that there was a need for creators and members of the public to better understand copyright, the only resources available at the time were mostly government websites that were too technical or industry-led initiatives that focused on piracy and communicated negative messages. We wanted to do something different, something responsive to the needs of creators and other copyright users and communicating positive messages. So that is basically why we started the initiative by building a website with the actual questions that creators had. We approached it as a bottom-up exercise.

ANTHONY: It must have been interesting to find the perspective of the people who are actually using this information rather than from an academic perspective. What were some of the things you found were surprising about this?

BARTOLOMEO: Creators ask very different questions from academics. Creators want to know practical things. They want to know how much of an existing song they can use, or how much of an existing film they can use in terms of an exact limit. They are sometimes a bit disappointed to hear that there is not such exact limit! It is often dependent on ambiguous concepts such as ‘substantial part’ which is not clearly defined in the statute. It’s hard to accept that ambiguity sometimes. This is the gap we try to fill with the CopyrightUser website. We try to find a language that is both accessible and authoritative, and use videos and other multimedia content that speak to creators and other users.

ANTHONY: Obviously the name of the website focuses on the “user”. Was this intentional? Who is a copyright “user”? Because when we think of copyright, I think most people think of it as a lock or a wall on content that you cannot go behind.

CopyrightUser.org aims to make UK copyright law accessible to creators, media professionals, entrepreneurs, students, and members of the public.

BARTOLOMEO: This is one of the reasons why we wanted to do the CopyrightUser initiative. There were no communications from the user perspective. By user we mean anyone who uses copyright as part of their creative or professional activity. It could be anyone now a days, including members of the public – whether they know it or not. When they interact with websites and social media there are hundreds of daily copyright implications. I would say that probably copyright users is a broad concept including filmmakers, musicians, visual artists but largely almost everyone is a copyright user.

ANTHONY: Would you say that this idea of a user is a newer concept? Would people prior to the internet consider themselves users?

BARTOLOMEO: To a certain extent maybe. But, before the “digital revolution”, copyright was a discourse among experts only. Now digital tools have basically made media production much more accessible to everyone. Now lots and lots of people are faced with copyright questions and copyright issues. So, I would say that copyright was affecting many people before, but now almost everyone has become a copyright user.

ANTHONY: You mentioned the norms of the community in influencing what copyright is. Have you found that since CopyrightUser has been up and running for some time that your impression of the community norms has changed somewhat?

BARTOLOMEO: I have a slightly clearer understanding of what the community norms are, but this is really the focus of my research at the moment. For example, in the United States, the American University created a series of codes of best practice for fair use. I would be very interested in doing something similar in the UK and also at the EU to codify creative practices that are relevant and help define concepts like fair dealing and quotation.

ANTHONY: In the EU right now, we have been in the process of debating over some fairly significant changes to copyright. Have you found that there has been much interaction between the creative community, users and these proposed changes?

BARTOLOMEO: Well, not much probably. I would say that the creative industries are definitely well represented in those debates, but probably not individual or independent creators. The big creative industries are represented, the independent creators less so. There has been quite a lot of participation by users through initiatives like COMMUNIA and Copyright For Creativity. So, there have been collective efforts to participate in the debate. Still, there is probably not a balance of representation of interested parties.

ANTHONY: Looking at that Directive’s changes to press publication and intermediary liability – what is your perspective as to how creatives and users are feeling about these changes?

BARTOLOMEO: It seems that the average user disagrees with these changes. There has been quite a lot of focus on social media and the #savetheinternet campaign. So, they have been very controversial. At the same time, you have certain sectors of the creative industries that see a so-called value gap and believe that these provisions would be beneficial for the community by filling that value gap. It is a complicated landscape and a controversial one.

ANTHONY: Do you think the future is bright for copyright in the sense of how we have traditionally understood it? Do you think that users are in control in copyright given what we have seen lately?

BARTOLOMEO: Well I am not sure if users will ever take control of copyright. I hope that they will at least have a say in how copyright legislation is shaped and developed. But I do think there is a future for copyright. Especially now with artificial intelligence and machine learning, some people claim that intellectual property in general is not fit for purpose anymore. I don’t really agree with those claims. I think that intellectual property and copyright have survived already quite a lot of disruptive technological developments. They will probably adapt and survive these advancements too.

ANTHONY: Since the Internet we’ve seen changes to copyright law that have kind of removed itself from this traditional idea of copying – it seems to be more and more about something else. Do you find that it’s a bit of a struggle in providing information to creators when increasingly we are getting more and more of these new ideas that are based on copyright but look like something else. Does this make your job more difficult?

BARTOLOMEO: What has made my job difficult is convincing people that copying is not necessarily wrong. The main copyright education message when we got started was that copying was wrong. So that is also why we decided that one of the main principles of the CopyrightUser initiative was to use positive messaging – copying is not wrong at all. It is an essential part of any creative process. Even from a legal point of view, there are various forms of copying that are explicitly allowed. You can copy works that are in the public domain, you can borrow ideas that are not protected, and there are a number of exceptions and permitted acts such as the fair use doctrine and fair dealing exceptions. So, that was probably one of the main challenges of the CopyrightUser project – to persuade people that copying is not necessarily illegal or wrong.

ANTHONY: Do you find that different jurisdictions having different copyright – is that something that is intuitive to most people?

BARTOLOMEO: This is definitely a nightmare for most creators. Often when you explain copyright everything is understood fairly easily until you get to territoriality. Maybe you are allowed to do something in one jurisdiction but not another. This is hard to accept sometimes, especially in relation to copyright duration and the public domain which are subject to different rules across different jurisdictions.

ANTHONY: Bartolomeo, thank you so much for your time today.

BARTOLOMEO: Thank you, it was my pleasure.