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undecided voter

I'm really struggling with this election, I still have no idea how I'm going to vote. A lot of my friends in the book industry have said they're planning to vote Green, even though they know the Green Party probably won't get more than a few token seats. But I saw this on the Green Party policy website last night and it made me very concerned:

A copyright of only 14 years? Do they mean 14 years? Or lifetime plus 14 years (which would make more sense to me)? Are they talking about copyright itself or licensing the copyright? Copyright law is very complicated. Here's how I understand the basics: I have copyright over something I make, and I almost never sell that. But I do license the rights to people to use specific elements of my work for a certain amount of time, in certain territories. As copyright holder, I can agree with the client in the contract if my name needs to go on the work, and if the client can alter it at all. And when that time expires, the rights revert to me and I can earn more money licensing them again.

Most writers I know who live on their work are able to do so because they've slowly built up a collection of work that continues to earn money, and that build-up takes longer than 14 years. I'm kind of counting on this, because I don't think I can work with this much energy as I get older. I still plan to work in old age, but I hope I earn a little bit from my past work to accommodate the fact that I'll be slowing down. One of the reasons I've been highlighting #PicturesMeanBusiness is that I don't like an easy-going approach to crediting illustrators (or more often forgetting to credit us) that cuts us out of the business equation. We simply want to work, push ourselves to do good work that will entertain and inspire people, get paid for our work, and live off our earnings. If no one wants to read my books or buy my artwork, I need to look for another paying job.

If you go to the Green policy page and read more, it seems that copyright and patents are lumped together in the same category. But I'm not so sure that a copyright on a book or painting is the same as a drug company having control of a medicine patent. An individual struggling to make a living is not the same as a large drugs company, these are probably separate issues. And I don't know anything about drug patents, so I'm not going to talk about that here.

I think the Greens generally like the idea of sharing, which sounds very grass-roots and friendly. But I suspect it's the larger companies who would benefit from this. A company such as Disney would have the financial means of pouncing and developing as soon as copyright expired. Viviane Schwarz pointed out on Twitter that it would also give the world a vast sea of copy-right free art - in effect, our art would become clip art - and clients would be tempted to use that instead of paying us to make new art.

The general sense I'm getting from replies from the Green Party is that the Green Party doesn't want us to be able to make money in a commercial sense, they would prefer that we are funded more equally by the council. My problems with this would be:

1) It sounds to me like we would have to shift the time we now spend trying to win readers to trying to woo arts council people and write endless pseudo-English grant proposals. I trust the decisions of readers, about what they want to spend money on and read, more than I trust a small handful of people in an arts council office deciding for everyone what should be produced.

2) This would appeal to people who haven't been able to make a living at the arts, but one of the reasons for this could be that they either don't spend enough time working on it, or aren't particularly good at it. I hate to think of the taxpayer funding a lot of not-particularly-good art, when we can't even maintain libraries.

3) This is a two-part scheme: we'd lose copyright, but then get other funding. I can imagine us losing copyright but then the government saying, 'Oops, sorry, we don't have enough money to do this', and then we wouldn't be able to claw back the copyright we'd lost.

A major flaw in the current system of publishing is that it discourages single people and poor people from being able to do this for a living, because it takes so long to start earning decent money at it. (See the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign.) But I'm not sure a blanket funding scheme of communal art would be the answer to this. The disadvantaged people would still have a hard time getting together the time and training to write the best grant proposals and there would still be a network of privilege. (And writing grant proposals DOES take a great deal of training. You have to speak a special language of grant proposals; you don't get money by just having a solid good idea.)

Even the Green people seem to be saying, 'Don't worry, we're not going to get in anyway, just vote for us and we can work things out'. The points aren't in their manifesto, they are posted as policy aims. But why post aims that haven't been worked out to some extent? Isn't that the point of doing research, that we look at the arguments of all the parties, work out who has the best arguments, and vote accordingly?

I work in a studio full of artists and some artists show up every day, work very hard and are professional, and others show up very occasionally and clog up the sinks. I don't want my hard-earned tax money going to fund sink-cloggers.

I'm all for protecting the planet, but I want it to be done by people who have thought things through; this policy smacks of whimsy, and I don't want a government run that way. And I still have no idea how to vote.

Since I'm really not an expert on copyright law, I would be very interested in hearing what the Society of Authors have to say on this Green policy statement. (I'm a member, and they're @Soc_of_Authors on Twitter.) If you think you might vote Green, it would be worth pushing them to clarify the issue. One place you can discuss it is on their Green Party Policy Discussion Facebook page. You need to join, and then you can take part in the discussion.

Now, I need to step away from this and go do some work; these books won't illustrate themselves.

PS Ah, news just in from the Society of Authors (read it on their website here):

Edit: Kat Brown at The Telegraph has posted an article with other authors' responses:

Charlotte Eyre in The Bookseller here:

And Jessica Elgot in a Guardian article here.

An attempt at clarification from Brighton MP Caroline Lucas:

Caroline Lucas says it's Lifetime + 14 years, but Hayley Campbell on Twitter pointed out her use of the phrase 'as I understand it'. Which makes us wonder if she's guessing, like the rest of us.

The Green spokesman to The Telegraph said it's definitely 14 years only, and I saw similar things on the Green Party Policy Discussion Facebook page. So it sounds like there is no definite party line yet.

(And here's the Rufus Pollock paper.)

Another Bookseller article here...

Response from Tom Chance, The Green Party's former Spokesperson for Intellectual Property, here on his blog (and The Green Party have retweeted him):

Writer Sophia McDougall's blog:

More Green discussion on the public Green Party Facebook page here, including:

Not much of a reply from Green Party Leader Natalie Ben, just restating Tom's statement that the policy is '14 years plus death', even though it doesn't say that on the website:

Green MP Caroline Lucas is making much more of an effort to tackle the issue (which makes sense, since they hope to win a big base from Brighton creatives):

Read the full article here:

I've tweeted:

...and it's good to see Caroline Lucas making an effort to take the third option. If you want to take part in the Green Party Copyright Policy Shop on Facebook, you can join the group and help add to their discussion here.

And Green Party member Phil Groom has set up a petition, asking for more Copyright policy clarity.


( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 23rd, 2015 10:02 am (UTC)
Not a policy of all Green parties.
Just to clarify that if you are an undecided Scottish voter, this is not a policy that the Scottish Green Party has, so feel free to vote for them!
Apr. 23rd, 2015 11:09 am (UTC)
I'm also terrified of clause 'c', because, as worded, it is legalising piracy as long as you're not taking money for the copied [stolen] book/film/track/etc.

Really unhappy with it. At best this is terribly expressed. At worst, it is actively punishing professional creators. I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Apr. 23rd, 2015 11:28 am (UTC)
I have seen a few people stating that it's not within their manifesto but has simply been included on the website as something they'd consider in the future or something that has been voted on in a past meeting ... all of which seem to have taken place between 30-40 years ago depending who you ask.

It seems though that their manifesto is simply less specific about the time-scale

"Make copyright shorter in length, fair and flexible, and prevent patents applying to software"

This repeated defence of "it's only on the website" seems to simply be the unofficial party statement.
Kathryn Evans
Apr. 23rd, 2015 11:41 am (UTC)
Brushing it off or saying they haven't really decided about it, is really shoddy - I feel like a bit of head patting is going on here - don't worry dears, you do you lovely pictures and stories and we'll deal with the complicated, no, no. Looks very amateur, not what I want to see for a party I had hoped might offer real alternative. Anyone actually had a response from the Green Party yet?
Apr. 23rd, 2015 11:49 am (UTC)
Thanks for this Sarah, saw it this morning via Lynda Rucker, and I'm pleased you have over 300 shares. This has slightly blind sided me, but I will write to the local candidate Dave Hampton.

'I am this morning very concerned about the Green Party's approach to copyright. Authors, artists, poets, schoolars need to earn a living too, and are very low earners at the best of times (barring select few) I am stunned the green party would shorten their oppurtunity to earn money from their cultural contribution. (Iver)
Apr. 23rd, 2015 11:53 am (UTC)
I'd love to vote Green if they were only focussing on well-thought-out environmental strategy, but for some reason they seem to believe that taking money in return for work, except from the government, is wrong.

I've worked on government IT projects, and I really don't want to see that level of infuriating waste and inefficiency widened into a broader sphere. Plus I'm kind of offended by the idea that as an ill-paid small business I am some sort of capitalist fat-cat because I get paid by other small businesses out of money they have earned, rather than out of grants and taxes.

sink-cloggers! I like it. :-D
Apr. 23rd, 2015 11:59 am (UTC)
They seem to have noticed from this tweet

The Green Party @TheGreenParty · 50m 50 minutes ago
Lots of talk about #copyright - 14yrs not specified in our manifesto. We would consult with artists/creatives/writers to reduce from 70yrs
Apr. 23rd, 2015 12:16 pm (UTC)
Green Party policy
Hi Sarah,

Just to clarify this is from the Green Party's 'Policies for a Sustainable Society' and not from the Green 2015 manifesto.

PfSS is a living document that is updated by members at The Green Party conference every six months. The "14 years" policy could have been added by members at a time when the party was in its infancy. We now have over 60,000 members - more than UKIP and the Lib Dems.

Like you, I am worried how the shortening of copyright terms would effect single women and poor people working as writers. I will therefore be bringing a motion before the next conference to have this removed from PfSS.

Please email me at with any suggestions for how you would like our copyright policy to look. I can then bring this before a vote at the next conference.

All the best,
Kieran Turner-Dave
Green Party candidate for Manchester Central
Apr. 23rd, 2015 01:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Green Party policy
Removing this from PfSS suggests that you support the status quo on copyright. Would it be better to amend it to take it account the needs of both the creators and users of copyrighted materials?
Re: Green Party policy - ianjmatt - Apr. 23rd, 2015 02:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Green Party policy - jabberworks - Apr. 24th, 2015 11:59 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Green Party policy - sophiamcdougall - Apr. 24th, 2015 12:00 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Green Party policy - psamphire - Apr. 24th, 2015 09:34 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Green Party policy - jabberworks - Apr. 24th, 2015 11:56 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Green Party policy - sophiamcdougall - Apr. 25th, 2015 09:51 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Green Party policy - (Anonymous) - Apr. 26th, 2015 08:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Green Party policy - sophiamcdougall - Apr. 24th, 2015 12:05 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Green Party policy - sophiamcdougall - Apr. 24th, 2015 12:44 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 23rd, 2015 12:52 pm (UTC)
Many musicians I know were thinking about voting green, my first time voting son amongst them, but not anymore! Get this sorted or you will alienate a huge swath of artistic, culture minded people who would actually like to vote for you. And, I'm sorry but if you can't even change something on your website without voting, how are you going to make good, quick decisions if you were actually running the country. I'm not earning my living through the arts but the Green party has lost my vote too.
Apr. 23rd, 2015 10:15 pm (UTC)
No point in voting for someone who just turns around and ignores their old policy? Did the Lib Dems even change their website before increasing tuition fees?
Apr. 23rd, 2015 10:04 pm (UTC)
What do you think about a Citizen's Income? Would it compensate for the shorter copyright or not?

Ok, you want to be able to make a living from proceeds of your previous work. Why should copyright continue for 70 years after the author dies? And then why should it stop?

Should I be paying the heirs of Shakespeare every time I quote him? Oops, bad example, as much of his work was derivative of something before, just done better.

I would guess that the 14 year figure was chosen because it was the original copyright length, and because it is also the length of a patent. Now, an individual struggling to make a living is not the same as a drug company. But a drug company consists of thousands of individuals trying to make a living, and thousands more shareholders looking to invest for their own futures. Should all of these people be entitled to profit more from the fruits of their labour? Extending patents would encourage the invention of more drugs and everything else, but also make it more expensive for everyone else to actually use them

So the big question is, how long is the long tail? Does a typical book sell 90% of its copies in the first 14 years, or only 10%?

And yes, Disney would be able to scoop up and commercialise anything after the copyright expires. But so could everyone else. Disney would have to make money from their new work, because their back catalogue would be public domain too.
Apr. 23rd, 2015 11:46 pm (UTC)
No, of course it wouldn't. So you get your citizen's income plus nothing. Amazon gets THEIR citizen's income plus all your sales. Any studio interested in adapting your work just has to draw out development hell for 14 years to make a film AND put out a new copy of the book and rake all the proceeds and give you nothing. What a happy artistic utopia!

If you don't want authors to get the money from their own work, you need to explain who you do want to have it. Because it's going to be someone. Who do you want to get the sales from To Kill a Mockingbird, seeing as you don't want it to be Harper Lee?

Also, what happens when the next government cuts or abolishes the citizen's income? Your copyright is not coming back.

>And yes, Disney would be able to scoop up and commercialise anything after the copyright expires. But so could everyone else.

Uh, how? Are the Greens taking over the world, now? Disney would remain exactly as it is, but very appreciative of all the free content the Greens would have handed them. And how is the author supposed to "commercialise" work they've already written? Are they supposed to drop they're currently writing, SOMEHOW RAISE MILLIONS OF POUNDS, and produce a movie of their 14-year-old script?

Life +70 is fairly ridiculous, but your extensio ad absurdam of paying Shakespeare's heirs is nothing to do with the facts of authors' lives. Life + 20 or so would protect authors from exploitation, deter rich producers from waiting for them to die poor before swooping in for the profits, and allow something reasonable for minor-age children without providing for them for life.

Edited at 2015-04-24 12:03 am (UTC)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Apr. 25th, 2015 07:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Apr. 25th, 2015 07:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sophiamcdougall - Apr. 23rd, 2015 11:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 24th, 2015 09:29 am (UTC)
I'm not a spokesman for the Green Party, but I can tell you that a group has been set up to completely rewrite this policy. I know because I've joined that group. In my opinion, the policy should be looking at protecting artists' incomes and rights, and that's what I'm hoping it'll turn out to be. If anyone has any specific concerns other than the ones already outline here, I'd be very happy to feed them back.
Apr. 24th, 2015 11:50 am (UTC)
That's great, thank you!
Apr. 24th, 2015 03:56 pm (UTC)
On the Green Party Policy Discussion page, I see a lot of people not understanding what copyright is. They think people buy the copyright when they commission work.

Just to be clear, freelance artists don't normally sell their copyright. They license the rights for specified work, for a specified amount of time, to specific territories. They can negotiate with the client how the work will be used, if they will have their name attached to the work and if the client may or may not alter it in any way. When the time period if up, the rights revert to the creator, which the creator can then license again for more money. Copyright is very different than licensing rights.

Artists who work in companies and draw a salary for their work may not always own copyright; the company might own it, and the in-house artist should be getting company benefits and the security of regular money.

I'm freelance and I once sold my copyright along with an illustration to a company for £200, for what I thought they were going to use to decorate a a single item of merchandise. They ended up using it as their logo, to go on everything, and if I had known better, I could have charged at least £5000 for that, possibly more. (So in effect, they lied to me.) But because I'd sold the copyright along with the rights, there was nothing I could do about it. If they wanted to license the image to UKIP, there's nothing I could do about it. I never sell copyright now, and I don't want someone else to give it away for me.

I think a lot of the problem has been that some Green party people think copyright can be used generally to hold on to ideas. So they assume that copyright is bad for the circulation and sharing of ideas. But ideas can't be copyrighted, only specific created works.

Edited at 2015-04-24 04:00 pm (UTC)
Apr. 29th, 2015 10:43 pm (UTC)
Life + anything is too long. It means any work won't enter the public domain until it is irrelevant. The ludicrous length also makes people lose respect for the law, as far as anyone alive is concerned copyright lasts forever.

I could get behind 14 years my personal feeling is that 7 is right but even double it is closer to the mark.
Jun. 28th, 2017 04:48 am (UTC)
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Sarah McIntyre

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