Twitter went crazy today with artists, writers, musicians and other creatives reacting against the Green Party policy on copyright.
**Warning, this blog post may contain political opinion**
Copyright is a strange beast. For many people, it’s an inconvenience standing between them and content they would like to access, copy or distribute but can’t, or shouldn’t, because someone owns it. I remember being in this group when I wanted to photocopy books for study at university, and did so on occasion, under the disapproving glare of posters above the photocopier.
For others it is the only thing that protects them from having the things they create exploited by opportunists in the first group. Now, as a writer, I’m in this group.
A policy document from the Green Party came to light today in which stated the following…
The Green Party: Policy
As a producer of so called “cultural products” this scares me beyond words. My writing is not a cultural product. It is not a product of culture, it is a product of me. If there must be a day when I can no longer claim control over by creative babies, let it be after my death so I do not have to endure it.
The backlash has been epic… well it has in my corner of the internet. This article on the Telegraph website covers the highlights: Authors criticise Green Party plan to reduce copyright to 14 years
But moving slightly away from the Green Party policy, to a more general view on copyright, why is it that “copyright” is so often considered synonymous with inaccessible or controlled?
Copyright law does not, in itself, state that material cannot be “copied”; it defines who has that say and protects their decision. Copyright holders are free to grant rights to third parties and do so all the time. How do you think publishing contracts work? They can even distribute their IP under a general licence, like creative commons, so that it CAN be copied and re-distributed for free, but it is their choice.
So the copyright holder might ask the consumer to – God forbid – pay for the creative content they spent hours, weeks, months, sometimes even years creating.
In the wake of today’s uproar, I read at least one blogger’s opinion in favour of the 14 year cut off who countered with the argument that people in other industries didn’t get paid for work they did 14 years ago… and to that I say well, no, they get paid when they actually do the work. Many struggling artists do not.
Copyright kicks in when content is created, not when it is published or sold. Some artists strive for years to get work recognised. A ticking clock would not be helpful; my own mortality provides enough of that already.
This sums up some of the astounding misunderstanding around copyright pretty well: 5 Seriously Dumb Myths About Copyright the Media Should Stop Repeating
So can we all, please, stop demonising copyright.
If reform is needed, it is needed in the way we go about licensing IP; make ownership and licensing more transparent, so that people can engage with, and request licenses from, content owners.