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The ability to digitize information has made access to it global and instantaneous, but now there is more information out there than ever, who controls it?

Heather Brooke, writer, journalist and Freedom of Information activist, was speaking at the Bath LitFest today. As well as talking at length on the issue of online privacy and surveillance, she spoke about the copyright conundrum facing all industries and how it could be approached for this new, digital, generation.

Brooke described the internet as ‘managed chaos’ without a central authority, although it is in the process of becoming controlled by a few giant companies (such as Apple and Google) which will create a concentration of information.

She points out that although no single government or state has control over the internet as a whole, politics is becoming more and more involved in policing their country’s access to content.

Some superpowers are becoming more powerful than others at controlling content across the whole web. The USA in particular is often seen as overstepping their boundaries in terms of controlling cyberspace, such as the Megavideo shutdown .

“Has copyright become the new censorship?”

Brooke asked part-way through the talk, stressing that originally copyright was a way for a creator to profit from their art- it was not intended to prevent access to that work for future generations.

An audience member asked her why, as she is a Freedom of Information activist, should people pay for her book. She replied that her time is valuable and her ability to write books hinges on people buying them, but she wouldn’t make money on it indefinitely and she would like more freedom to post sections or other content from it online.

The conversation also turned to her job as an investigative journalist. She said that the challenge of the internet is that there is so much information thrown up that finding the valuable information is difficult. A journalist’s job is to gather that raw material and try to verify what is and isn’t fact, it’s about gaining perspective.

One of the consequences of the decline in funding for print news outlets, and the low funding of online news outlets, is that investigative journalism is being cut and underfunded. This decline means that instantaneous, knee-jerk journalism is becoming a big problem – a story can now reach across the world before the first fact-check has been completed.

Brooke did not suggest that she had answers for any of the difficulties with copyright law, in fact she said “I don’t know how to find funding for my next project”.

The publishing industry, as well as every other industry which creates digital content in any form, needs to find a way of enabling people to share their work whilst earning enough to keep making it.

After talking about such an interesting woman for so long, I can’t help but mention that  it’s International Women’s Day

(The video is from here.)