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AI inventions have arrived
but can copyright cope?

Gathered in the cradle of copyright, the Court Room of the Stationers’

Company, were some of the finest minds on the principles of copyright.

Evolved more than 300 years ago from the rough compliance

mechanisms of Stationers to a series of moves by our Company in

Parliament in the late 17th Century, Stationers’ efforts led to the much vaunted Statute of Anne in 1710 as the first copyright law in the world.

But the question taxing the minds of the 60 or so of us assembled for an IPso FACTo (IP FACTs…got it?) debate on 18 November was whether thinking machines needed a regulatory framework? And whether the laws supporting copyright and patents were fit for purpose in a world of Artificial Intelligence (AI)? And basically the answers were Yes....and No.

On the platform were two practitioners at the forefront of change. Bruce MacCormack of CBC, the Canadian equivalent of BBC, is currently working with the BBC on a joint project to examine how AI will be used and managed in media companies. In his own words “I manage technology change for media companies and fight entropy”. So managing an orderly approach to questions such as how AI might be used for journalism.

Our second guest was Nigel Swycher, CEO of Cipher, an organisation which claims to be the first analytics product to aggregate, analyse and visualise the world's IP data. With them were Liveryman Laurence Kaye, Stationers’ “resident” IP lawyer, and Master Stationer Trevor Fenwick presiding in his capacity as driving force of Stationers’ copyright initiatives over a 12 year span which, he reminded us, had also included the production of a jointly edited Stationers’ book “Copyright in the Digital Age” plus the sponsoring of a phd thesis and MA IP bursaries. There was also a Stationers’ satellite website containing content which these projects had generated, edited and maintained by Ian Locks and, as Ian described briefly, recently rejuvenated.

“In those 10 years we have seen a great deal of disruption,” said the Master, a self-proclaimed “disruptionist”, disruption which had continued this evening with the loss of two speakers. The panel made up for any shortfall in numbers.

Laurie Kaye explained helpfully for non experts AI was any artificial system that performed part of a process and could learn along the way, built on a mathematical model. “Narrow AI”  was what we saw around us today learning to do specific tasks such as flagging inappropriate content on line.  “Artificial general intelligence”, on the other hand, was about understanding how things may develop.  The Terminator type intelligence,

Nigel Swycher said the nub of the regulatory debate was that in the view of the law, only humans could invent. “We must do something about regulation of AI now. Keep it simple. The last thing we want is disintermediation of humans. We will figure it out ... we did with photocopying. So now a machine takes a song and makes another song....nothing new!”

Explaining the CBC/BBC quandary, Bruce MacCormack said the amount of data being generated was beyond human understanding. In the broadcasting business flows of data could predict, for example, who was most likely to quit a subscription by their viewing patterns. Vast flows of facial recognition data raised the ethical dimension. “Without a robust framework we are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water and losing the tremendous benefits,” he said.

So our 309 year old copyright regime?  The detail may change but the principles remain. Amen to that!



Ian Locks

Monday 18 November 2019

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Guest speakers Nigel Swycher and Bruce MacCormack

Copyright or Wrong - a BBC Radio 4 programme 

The Clerk of the Stationers' Company, William Alden, took part in a radio programme on copyright with Richard Taylor, a leading copyright lawyer, in January 2018. The programme sought to explore whether copyright law was an analogous law in the digital age. The interview is still available on BBC I-player and can be heard via this link.  The image is taken from the BBC I-player website entry for the programme.

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Liveryman Kevin Fitzgerald CMG, Director for Outreach for the World Intellectual Property Organisation talks with the Master, Rt. Revd. Dr Stephen Platten about his career; living in Geneva and the role of WIPO.

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A report by Lucie McCord

The Shape of Music Copyright – music publishing, musicians’ rights and the wider commercial world’ held in Stationers' Hall on 28th February 2023.  It was great to collaborate with the Musicians’ Company and our shared interest brought us all together to explore a really fascinating topic. Our thanks go to the Masters of our Companies – Moira Sleight, Master Stationer and Newspaper Maker and Jeff Kelly, Master Musician. Those of you who attended heard first hand a thoughtful and entertaining discussion as our speakers addressed the theme and fielded your questions. 

We were lucky to have such an excellent panel (pictured)and our most grateful thanks go to our Chair, Leslie East OBE, and the rest of the panel, Nigel Barr, Hayleigh Bosher from Brunel University London, FreemanCharlie Cawood from Bigtime Radio TV & Entertainment Group, John Minch from Concord Music Group Europe and Anna Neale.

Charlie shared some industry and artist dashboard slides at the event and these are attached.

It was a pleasure to share one of our regular Stationers’ Company events with you.  For those who are not members of the Company, we hope you will look out for other events of interest listed on our website (linked here). If you would like to receive updates on future events, please let me know and I will add you to our non-member mailing list.

We have two excellent upcoming events:

The Shape of Music Copyright - a 2023 debate
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