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:
...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 change.org petition, asking for more Copyright policy clarity.