What digitization means to a lawyer

Digitization means a totally different thing for journalists, librarians and archivists, hackers, publishers, e-book readers and so on. For a lawyer, especially for a copyright lawyer, digitization means a form of reproduction. The latter activity is historically the number one exclusive economical right of rightsholders. T he Anglo-Saxon „copyright law” directly mirrors this fact. Indeed, the Continental European „author’s right regimes” (the French „droit d’auteur”, the German „Urheberrecht” or „Autorenrecht”, or the Hungarian „szerzői jog”) have guaranteed this economical right since the beginning of the existence of this legal territory.

More precisely, digitization is usually referred to as the multiplication of analogue data carriers that store protected subject matter (not only written/literary works, but others like fine art works or photographs etc.) into digital format. Since most of the creative contents are also available in digital format in our age, digitization generally affects works of the past: works of an age, when and where the multiplication of works was only possible on physical data carriers, like paper, reel tapes, audio or VHS cassettes, photo paper or CDs/DVDs. Due to the constant and rapid development of technology, however, these data carriers are increasingly deteriorated. Nowadays almost nobody uses 78RPM machines, photo reels, VHS or Betamax, and even LPs work as a niche alternative for CDs. Works that were published on any of the above data carrier, however, belong to our cultural heritage that face destruction in the lack of digital preservation.

The Summer School devoted almost a whole day to the discussion of the legal relations of digitization. Prof. Guido Westkamp introduced a comparative approach to the different treatment of several digital copyright issues in countries like the UK (where he works), Germany (where he originates from), Switzerland (another German speaking country) and the European Union (as a regional organization that oversees various aspects of copyright law in order to defend the ultimate goals of the EU: the four freedoms). Richards Gulbis and Péter Mezei added further dimensions to this debate with introducing how two minor EU member states struggle with the phenomenon of digitization related to the preservation of cultural heritage by national, public institutions, like libraries or archives. Sven Guckes, with his loose but still focused workshop introduced a licensing mechanism, the Creative Commons movement that might serve as an alternative to the rigid copyright system. A keynote speach from Alexander White highlighted the antitrust law problematics of the e-book industry. The Amazon case clearly mirrors the fact that the industry is interested in applying a digital world friendly business model to the sale of electronic publications, however, at the same time it confirmed as well, that these models shall not be based upon the „cooperative division” of the market. Finally, the roundtable dicsussion that brought together the lecturers of the day and other specialists and even the representative of the German Pirate Party mirrored how different dimensions the stakeholders might perceive in respect of the effects of the digitalization upon our culture (including journalism, constitutional rights, political liberties etc.).

The legal perspectives of digitization might have a greater importance to me, since IAAL („I am a lawyer”), but the key reason why I found the summer university incredible fascinating that it brought together different people with different priorities and perspectives. Dimensions that I would never think on on my own.