Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Dear MEPs, We Need Copyright Reform, Stat.

I've written an email to my MEPs. Since I don't know which of these is my own MEP, I wrote to all of them. I recognise a few of them from the Manchester Meetup and to be honest, I couldn't resist the opportunity to take a dig at the Kippers, riffing on my last encounter with them. Since they're debating copyright policy at the moment, can you please seek out your own MEPs and write to them if you want to see changes made in the laws that govern us? Given that TTIP and CETA are still on the table, we may be able to derail them with a few timely comments about one of the key issues in both FTAs.

Dear Louise,

I'm writing in response to the news that the European Parliament is discussing copyright reform.

As a former web designer and an active blogger, copyright is a subject dear to my heart. I dabble in graphic design projects for myself and for friends and have a good working knowledge of copyright law. The law needs to change.

As it stands, copyright has been perverted from its original purpose, which was to restrict the right to make or sell copies of a particular work to the publishers (not the author — it didn't include authors for many years) for a limited time, after which the works became public domain. Until recently, this was understood to be a government-granted monopoly privilege, not property. The fact that copyright, patents, and trademarks are being conflated with publicity and other imaginary rights and characterised as property is causing more problems than it solves, and all to protect the legacy business models of incumbent industries, to the detriment of the public.

Copyright is not property

Last year, we were robbed when copyright terms went from life of the author plus 50 years to life of the author plus 70 years. One moment we're happily browsing public domain works, the next, we're being asked to pay royalties for it. That is not right. Neither is it right to lie to us by saying, "Own it now on DVD." You don't own it at all, you're licensing it. That is what it says in the copyright notice, which restricts you from doing whatever you want with the item you supposedly own. Isn't that a breach of the Trade Descriptions Act? If I own a thing, I can do what I like with it, including making copies of it. And you can't wriggle out of the argument by saying, "Well, you own the medium (DVD, etc.) on which the book, music, or film is recorded." If that's true, what does "Own it now on DVD" actually mean? They're saying we own "it" ON the DVD. So what exactly is "it" if not the content? Can you at least make them tell the truth and admit we don't own a damn thing? We can sell the DVD, but when we do, the licence terms are transferred in the sale. The person I sell it to doesn't "own it now on DVD." What I'm saying is, copyright is not a property right for the creator and it robs buyers of copyrighted products of our own property rights by pretending we can own what we pay for. We can't.

Copyright does not incentivise creation

I should know, I'm a blogger. I was a web designer and I still dabble in graphic design. That logo you see below (if you haven't blocked image files) is one of my designs. I didn't make it in the hope of making money from it, but to represent myself and my work, to create a recogniseable brand and to transfer audience recognition from my former web design business to my blog. If you copy it or use it in ways I don't like there's not much I can do about it; litigation is for the rich. If copyright incentivises creation, why does it extend for seven decades past the life of the author? Zombies and other revenants are fiction. Ghost writers are real people who can actually write doing the work for living people who can't write well. So who are you incentivising if not the dead? That always was a weird argument for extending the length of the term.

Copyright is not a welfare scheme

When musician Edwyn Collins suffered a cerebral haemorrhage I was saddened to learn of it. I really like his music. However, to use it to justify lengthening copyright terms is as ridiculous as it is unfair. Copyright was never intended as a welfare scheme or social insurance program. Since horrible things can and do happen to the very best of us it is advisable to get some kind of life insurance to pay for the expenses that may be incurred as a result of a catastrophic health event but don't use copyright for that, it's the wrong vehicle. It's like using a Sherman tank to do your shopping.

Copyright is not a cash cow

Whenever I argue with people about copyright, particularly if they are involved in a creative activity (they're usually amateurs), they insist that copyright protects them from having their work stolen and that it guarantees them an income. After a day or two of patiently explaining how absurd their positions are, they usually come to accept this truth: it's a popularity contest. Only the most popular, well-established creatives can make any money at all by just sitting back waiting for the next royalty cheque to fall through the letter box for work they did decades ago. Even Edwyn Collins would have to have his music played regularly on a lot of radio stations, etc., to make any real money from copyright royalties. Besides, due to work-for-hire and similar agreements, artists are usually the last people to receive any royalty money; the collections societies get it first, followed by the rightsholders (usually the labels, etc.). If the artist didn't actually write the song, he or she gets nothing.

We all violate copyright every day

Have you ever sung Happy Birthday in public, perhaps in a restaurant? You owe royalties to Universal. If you share this email, should you not be asking me for permission (don't feel obliged to, by the way, I waive any and all rights to royalties for my hard work in creating this) first? You see, copyright in this email was fixed the moment I put my fingers to the keyboard. Copyright, as we know it, is hopelessly broken and only works for the major rent-seeking rightholders. It's not for little people like me. I wouldn't benefit from it in the slightest, even if I insisted on rent-seeking for everything I ever do. Which I don't.

IPR is antitethical to a free market

There is no such thing as "the free market." IPR is antitethical to a free market because it's a monopoly privilege; it's protectionism. And where there are distortions in the market, it is not free. Now it's impossible to ever have a completely free market but we can make it more fair and open, which means that all of us are exposed to the push and pull of market forces. Culture is not an essential service (although it is desirable) and I'm not suggesting for a moment that anyone should be obliged to work for free.

Other business models are available

Other business models are available by which creatives can be remunerated and I think it would be great if more could be done to promote those. As it is, copyright is not the best way to remunerate creatives because they're not always the rightsholders — they are the ones who get the money, not the creatives. Copyright law needs to change because in practice it defeats its stated aims. All it does is fund incumbent gatekeepers in a monopoly privilege that they keep working to extend, using genuine hardship stories as excuses. Please can you challenge this nonsense and bring about reforms that actually benefit creatives instead of pretending to benefit creatives. Thank you.

Feel free to use my Pirate Party Talking Points to help you craft your own letter. I'm not sure when they're taking this to the table but we need to remind them who they represent. Hint: it's not the lobbyists or noisy special interest groups, it's us.

No comments:

Post a Comment