Sane copyright doesn't treat all copying as the same

My latest Guardian column, "Copyright, companies, individuals and news: the rules of the road," is a start on a coherent framework for a copyright system that recognizes the difference between commercial use and non-commercial use, incidental copying and unfair copying, and many of the other exceptions that copyright needs to keep from devolving into a stupid caricature of itself:

We're trying to retrofit the rules that governed multi-stage rocket ships (huge publishing conglomerates) to cover the activity of pedestrians (people who post quotes from books on their personal blogs). And the pedestrians aren't buying it: they hear that they need a law degree to safely quote from their favourite TV show and they assume that the system is irredeemably broken and not worth attending to at all.

It's an impossible situation. As an author, I depend on there being some rules of the road when I negotiate with my publishers, and it's in every commercial creator's interest to try to find a moderate, coherent copyright rule that avoid dumb absolutes in favour of nuance and fairness. I don't pretend that I have all the answers, but here's some of the principles that I think a good copyright system must embrace if is to succeed. Many of these principles are already in various nations' copyright rules as part of "fair dealing" or "fair use," but these user-rights in copyright are complex and difficult to navigate and vary from country to country.

Copyright, companies, individuals and news: the rules of the road

(Image: Breach of Copyright – The Independent, from PeteZab's photostream)