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in defense of copyright

There's been a lot of talk in Britain about copyright during the past few days. What is it? Do we need it? Some people argue that it's not an important issue in the context of the overall election, but I disagree; I think people's attitude toward copyright tells us a lot about how they want society to work and how willing they are to take away protective rights before they even know much about them.



I got very weary of trying to explain the same points about copyright over and over to people on Twitter and Facebook. If you want to follow the debate, I've posted updates on my previous blog post here. If you want to know more from me, go there and leave a comment (or here); I'm not going to tweet endlessly about it.



Here are five reasons why I'm glad we're having this discussion about copyright:

1. Copyright is IMPORTANT. It's been a reminder to all parties not to mess with copyright unless thinking VERY hard about it and consulting freelance creative people whom the policy change would deeply affect.

2. Many people are clueless about copyright. It's shown that there are a lot of people out there who have no idea what copyright really means, but still want to see it severely curtailed.

3. Copyright is a subject worth investigating. It's made us see that we can't take copyright for granted, and we need to educate people about how it protects individual artists. (It's not just a truncheon for big corporations, as some assume.) It's made us think about the current state of copyright (Lifetime + 70 years) and wonder if it needs review or is right for now, taking into consideration existing EU policy.

4. We have to go by what's written. Intention doesn't mean much unless written words back it up. It's not just the Green Party policy website, the same goes for business conducted by creative people. If terms aren't correctly written into our contract and we have no copyright to protect us as creatives, the stronger and richer party gets to decide who's right.

5. We have help. It's highlighted the importance of the Society of Authors, an affordable source of help with legal explanations. The SoA is the closest thing writers, illustrators and translators have to a union for defending our rights and pointing us in the right directions so we can educate ourselves.



Here's the Society of Author's recent statement on copyright:



The discussion has thrown up two good pieces of online writing about the subject, including these two articles. Read five myths about copyright by writer John Degen:



And check out this defense of copyright by writer Joanne Harris:



What the copyright discussion taught us about the politics and the Green Party:

The Green Party handled this quite clumsily at first. Some representatives were pretending the policy website didn't say what it said about their stance toward an intended duration copyright 'with a usual maximum of 14 years'. Some said that it meant '14 years after death', and some insisted that it DID mean 14 years in total, as written. There was confusion. What we've learned from this:


1. Writing matters. If you write something on your policy website, that's what people are going to read and they will think that is what you mean. Your intention means nothing if you can't write clearly.

2. Learn how to write if you want to make big changes to society. People who deal in policy creation need to have good writing skills, and people to copy-edit what they've written before it goes public (particularly just before an election). Being 'grass roots' is no excuse for sloppiness in thinking or in writing.

3. Twitter is a powerful way to bring up an issue very quickly. All I did was highlight an existing piece of public policy and because the policy itself was so shocking to people in creative professions, the word spread like fire. (A lot of creative people spend a lot of time on Twitter.)

4. The Green Party lets all its members vote to decide policy. The Green Party can't make quick decisions or fix wording on its website without members voting to change it.

I think the Green Party should have highlighted this fourth fact right away, to show off its democratic decision-making process. Pretending the website wording didn't mean what it said was off-putting to people trying to understand the party's stance. Party Leader Natalie Bennett kept trying to smooth over this by retweeting an article that said the website didn't mean what it said. But Brighton MP Caroline Lucas realised within a few days that this wasn't enough, admitted the party got it wrong, and highlighted the need for consultation with creatives about copyright. I still think she shouldn't pretend the party meant '14 years after death', because that's not what the policy said, but if she wants to state this as a face-saving measure, I suppose that's politics, and people who want to vote Green can show up to discuss the subject with her. Read more on the Green Party website here.



And finally, how do we vote? ...I still have NO IDEA. Argh. But I will vote. Personally, I'm not convinced about protest votes. I don't want to see UKIP get power and I believe in voting for the party I think will do the best job. (Saying 'don't worry about Green policy and vote for them because they won't get in anyway' sounds lame. It's like I handed you my book and said 'don't bother reading it, it's rubbish'.)

But some creatives who were worried about copyright policy are reassured and deciding to go ahead and vote Green, to give a stronger voice to environmental concerns. You can read writer Jonathan Emmett's argument for voting Green:



And now I need to get back to work.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Apr. 29th, 2015 01:50 pm (UTC)
History Lesson
Go back to history class and learn what copyright is really about. You have perverted it into being a welfare system whereby you feel the that you need to be perpetually paid for works created in the past. Join the rest of the working world, when we get done with a job, in order to get paid again, we go out and do more work!!!!!

House builders don't get royalties for life + 70 years, why should anybody else. And what incentive is it for you to create more works when you are dead?????
(Anonymous)
May. 1st, 2015 05:06 am (UTC)
Re: History Lesson
Welfare? How dare you.

How. DARE. You.

Copyright is based on the fact that a created work has value. A house builder doesn't get royalties because she/he assigns the value of that house in perpetuity to the buyer, along with resale rights. But if (s)he chose, (s)he could instead rent out the house, taking a monthly fee from the tenant in exchange for leasing some (though not all) of the rights to that property; and indeed some house builders do just that. Are you going to propose that this is a form of 'welfare', and that after 14 years (s)he should lose the rights to that house?

The earnings from copyright are a reward for work - not just the work of creating the created work itself, but all the unpaid hours and months and years the artist has put into learning her/his craft and getting to the point where this created work becomes possible. And you don't get to call that welfare just because you want free stuff.

John Dougherty
burkojames
Apr. 29th, 2015 08:47 pm (UTC)
An interesting start
And I genuinely want to understand your take on this topic. Ill be pulling comments from multiple posts of yours, to try to get a complete picture.

Firstly, I am a big proponent of evidence-based law making. I believe that when we make a law, we should have something to suggest it will address the concern in question. Obviously, not all law can be based in evidence, as emerging concerns often need addressing immediately, and we can only gather data on the solution after a solution has been attempted. That said, copyright has a LOT of data behind it, and using said data we should be able to approach copyright in a rational manner.

Also, my perspective and data is American, while you are in the UK. I invite you to correct me if you think my American perspective or data fails to represent the market in the UK.

You stated that 'life + 14' makes more sense to you then 14 years. But what peaks my curiosity is what you think the length of copyright should be. You've said 14 isn't enough (I will talk about that later). Copyright in America is designed to incentivize creators to expand culture, by means of a limited time exclusive right. With this in mind, how much exclusivity to you need to create? Flat life devalues those licenses you make in your later life, which runs counter to your desire to support yourself in your older years. Life+X makes little sense, as it guarantees exclusive rights well past when you could possibly gain a benefit from it, and given that incentive was not implemented prior to the 70s, clearly not required to get someone to create. No, Id think a flat amount of time is the likely the right answer, creating a clear, unambiguous time when a copy written work goes into the public domain, removing uncertainty to the public. I like the early ones with an option for renewal (14+14 and 28+28). What do you think?

You have clearly argued that 14 years isn't enough under your business plan. Your plan is to build up a collection of works that continues to make money, so you can balance your residuals with a reduction in output in your old age. Lets analyse the inherent assumptions in that plan. 1) Your earlier works will continue to to remain in print 2) The revenue of your earlier works will remain significant 3) Your entire retirement is in the hands of the first 2 assumptions.

Lets ditch the 14 years number (Ill come back to it) for now, and shift it to another number. 28. Why 28? In 1958-59, copyright was for 28 years with renewal for another 28 years if you paid a fee and applied to the copyright office. Also because I am 30, and so all the children's books I enjoyed would likely be at least 28.

According to Wikipedia you are 40 and were first published (solo) in 2009. Meaning, to last you until you are say, 75, the book would need to remain in print for 41 years. Do books remain in print that long? Some do. But most of the Children's books I have on my shelf? Out of print. Only the most popular remain in print that long. Then again, we are living in an age of self publishing and e-books, so maybe remaining in print won't be as big a concern. (continued)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )