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Wednesday 27 June 2012
Letters: The threat to our archive heritage
We could lose access to much of our national heritage because the Government's proposed legal deposit regulations for electronic publications are seriously flawed.
Since 1710, legal deposit legislation ensured the preservation and accessibility of the printed word through six designated libraries, including the British Library and the national libraries of Scotland and Wales. Universal access to our printed intellectual heritage has stimulated the creativity and innovation that underpin the UK's economic and cultural wealth.
The Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 allows these libraries to collect UK electronic content as well. The Government produced draft regulations to implement the Act only this year and its consultation has recently closed. Sadly, these regulations will ensure that when a work enters the public domain on expiry of copyright, access to, copying and re-use of the legal deposit electronic copy will be substantially limited, enforcing in perpetuity restrictions intended to protect the rights of copyright owners only for the lengthy, but limited, term of the life of the author plus 70 years.
The public purse will have to pay for the creation and maintenance of dark archives of public domain e-publications that few people would ever be allowed to see. The future, even the present, is digital, so this is serious.
The Government's proposals to implement Professor Hargreaves' recommendations in his Review of Intellectual Property and Growth seek to support innovation and promote economic growth by adjusting copyright restrictions to balance the interests of copyright holders and the public more fairly.
The Government's desire to treat legal deposit copies less favourably is inconsistent and inexplicable. Future generations' access to our digital heritage will be compromised and the UK's future industries' ability to compete globally will be handicapped.
The Government must drop these unnecessary restrictions.
Chair, Libraries and Archives Copyright Alliance
Chair, The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professional
Chair, ARLIS UK & Ireland
Cameron takes us back to Dickensian values
Having read David Cameron's proposals for changes to benefits, I would like to congratulate him on his timing and his sense of history.
It is, of course, the 200th anniversary of the birth of that great novelist, journalist and social campaigner, Charles Dickens. I do not know what Mr Cameron had in mind when he put together the proposals but it might have been the thoughts of Ebeneezer Scrooge when asked for a donation to the poor: "Are there no workhouses? What of the treadmill?" Or he may have been reading Hard Times.
A desire to go back to some Victorian values may also explain the raising of state pension age to 68, with a view to raising it again to 70 or 75. Maybe some have forgotten the tax raid on pension funds in 1997 whereby people in defined benefit schemes had to make an extra contribution of 2 to 4 per cent or work for a further five to seven years to maintain the value of their pension "pots" at levels prior to Gordon Brown's first Budget. This Government, which condemned that action on pensions in opposition, has not reversed it, so the Treasury retains the benefit of the £5bn to £8bn "bonus" of tax take from "hard-working" families.
If this Government thinks that people want to be unemployed, they should think again. Prime Minister Gradgrind should get a grip on reality.
It seems poignant that Dickens is in the news, having being identified as the author of an article championing the rights of the working classes, in which he discusses the rise of soup kitchens. It's certainly difficult not to draw comparisons with stories in the news about the rapid rise of food banks, with one charity – Fareshare – noting: "We are experiencing ridiculous growth."
At the same time as many families are struggling to feed themselves, David Cameron is talking about taking many young people off housing benefit, which could make thousands more hungry and homeless, claiming that we are subsidising scroungers, although 95 per cent of the £1bn rise in housing benefit this year goes to people in work.
Dickens noted that many officials from institutions are either "rough or brutal" or "cheerfully condescending" to the poor in need of help, and suggested that these officials "must look at things with their eyes". It's disturbing to see so many parallels with Dickens in our present age.
Yet again David Cameron, with his privileged upbringing, has shown how out of touch he is with ordinary people. It's all very well to say young people under 25 should not get housing benefit but, for some, it is essential to claim it to be in a position to get gainful employment and get off benefits.
My 21-year-old son will not be able to get employment here in rural Lincolnshire when he leaves university, and will have to move to a city to seek work. He will need housing benefit to help get him started until he can pay his own way.
If Cameron's proposals ever become law, my son would not be able to do this and would have to stay at home on benefits. Is that what the Tories want?
I'm glad David Cameron wants to end the culture of entitlement, the something-for-nothing society. There are clearly too many people who enjoy great wealth without having had to work for it.
Inherited wealth is passed down the generations to those who have done nothing to deserve it. Can we expect to see inheritance tax rise steeply, and perhaps a wealth tax and a land tax too?
After all, no one can generate wealth without the security and infrastructure provided by the state, so it seems perfectly reasonable that the state which has enabled wealth creation should take the lion's share and the children of the wealthy should be content with a gift or a token from their predecessors.
A very large increase in inheritance tax would raise far more money than cutting housing benefit for the under-25s.
Assisting a suicide
Christina Patterson writes in support of the law which forbids anyone from assisting in a suicide (20 June). I find her arguments unconvincing.
She quotes two authorities. Lord Falconer says that "If people want to kill themselves, it's an entirely private matter", but "they can't kill somebody else." But assisting someone to die, who has thought long and hard before reaching that position, is an entirely different matter from killing someone.
The disability rights campaigner Kevin Fitzpatrick fears a society where "some people judge that other people's lives are not worth living". But that isn't what is being suggested. It is the person who wishes to die who will be making that judgement.
Who invented the steam engine?
Attribution of inventions can sometimes be tricky (letters, 22 June). But few can have been so ignored so comprehensively as Thomas Newcomen, the inventor of the first practical steam engine (in 1712).
Newcomen had built on the work of Thomas Savery's engine that proved the theory of lifting water by atmospheric pressure differential, but was impractical. The Newcomen engines were pumping water out of collieries in the Black Country and tin mines in Cornwall for 50 years before James Watt persuaded people to use his modification, the separate condenser. Yet I have a clear memory as a child being taught that James Watt had been inspired by the power of steam when watching it coming out of the spout of a kettle.
Watt's condenser made the steam engine efficient and reliable, and he also did other great things, such as manufacturing them to previously untold tolerances of precision, but he did not invent the steam engine, nor did he ever claim he had.
Curtains for Dido
It wasn't the first time the curtains failed at the Royal Opera House ("Behind the scenes at the opera house", 21 June ).
On 3 October 1972, at the start of Act 3 of The Trojans, Janet Baker (not then Damed), playing Dido, advanced towards the front of the stage with the chorus singing "Hail O Hail to the Queen" when to the audience, but not yet to the performers, the stage got smaller and smaller as the curtains started slowly to close but finished at a rush.
Fortunately, no one was hurt. After a long delay, the curtain was winched up by hand and the performance continued. So nothing's new.
When failures are winners
What conclusions should we draw from the fact that three of the four Euro 2012 semi-final places are occupied by countries from the economically feckless group of PIGS? Perhaps we should get a life?
Recipe for chaos
Can someone explain the benefits of an elected House of Lords? It strikes me a recipe for disaster. If there is a strong swing to one party at election time, that party could find itself with a large majority in both Houses. Where will the checks and balances come from? Will this not provide five years of elective dictatorship? It seems extraordinary with politicians in such disrepute that so many people want to give so much extra power to the party in power.
A real issue
May I use your columns to ask for a moratorium on the constant use of the word "issue"? It has become a sloppy, all-round synonym for "problem", "difficulty", "argument", "crisis" and any other words of disagreement. I found it used five times on one page of The Independent, and as many again in one BBC broadcast. Can we please stop and ask ourselves what it is, exactly, that we are trying to say?
John Swift, of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (letter, 19 June), seems to live in a fantasy, ancient past, constantly menaced by bears, wolves and tigers (sabre-toothed, no doubt). Perhaps he would be safer in a proper job, not pandering to the rich and their psychotic need to slaughter our wildlife for fun.
Haywards Heath, West Sussex
Call for clarity
Your report (Your Money, 23 June) credits the Co-op Bank as one that makes its charges clear on their websites. To a point, they do, but only following an additional link that requires scrolling down from the initial screen. But what they don't make clear is that the switching of call numbers from 0845 to 0844 significantly increases call charges for many customers. Caring? Sharing?
Worthing, West Sussex
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