April 27th, 2015

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:

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