The last couple of days I have been trying to write a piece about copyright.
Why all these false starts? I’m sure it’s because it’s a complex set of topics. Also, the debate is fairly infected, with trenches well dug and fortified. Even at my workplace, which shouldn’t had come as a surprise, but people have been vehement in a way that is totally out of character.
So, the ramble begins –
The issue of who owns the rights to publish what is nothing new, and has as it’s source the fact that post-web very few had the means to print, press or otherwise mass-produce, and distribute, what they wrote or recorded or filmed.
This meant that printing houses, agents, and others, found a niche as brokers and for making money, which in their case is a kind of primal urge and, in many cases, their sole reason for being. This also meant that people creating that kind of content, or whatever you like to call it, had to roll over and pay the price, or not be published, or read, or viewed, at all.
Now some people think it evil of those authors (I won’t lie, I primarily think of authors – I’m a book person, right?) if they get angry when people steal their source of income – ie. transcribing or scanning the pages and putting them out in the net, for anyone to read, without a single cent going to the originator. These people seem to think that authors should write in the time the rest of us use to sleep, or maybe they should get themselves a rich patron, or maybe they should live on things collected from other’s garbage, so they can write. These people think the bitch is the copyright laws. The thinking seems to be something like “big megacorps own the rights, so owning the rights must be wrong”.
I don’t think the copyright laws are that evil. The trouble is the media industry – who owns the copyrights that should properly belong to the originators – and increasingly the pseudo-democratic transnational pseudo-governments like the EU, who legislate to keep a dying industry on life support.
In an earlier age publishers justified their being with functioning as sieves, sifting the bad stuff from the good, publishing the good stuff. This hasn’t, of course, been entirely true, ever. But these last decades has seen an escalating trend towards pure trash, were the entertainment value haven’t been the quality of the piece but the promise of scandalous gossip about famous people, or their physical attributes, and the like.
An author I read a lot of books by recently told on her blog that ta one occasion her editor was transferred from cookbooks into science fiction. I can only imagine how that can affect editing, and the final product – the editor reduced to proofreader, no genre skills or insights needed.
So possibly authors and musicians, at least, don’t need the publishing houses any more, except in the cases were those publishers still own a certain copyright. The rest are free to publish however they want, retaining their rights to their works.
This is a possibility right now, without any changes in the copyright laws. Said authors could publish themselves in an e-format, getting their own revenues straight in pocket, and with the added possibility of the buyer of the one copy having permission to print it, if for personal use. There are places like Lulu out there who would print that one copy for you, in book format, shelf ready, and ship it to you.
A plus would be authors could write other things than what their publishers commission them to write. The same fave author I mentioned some paragraphs earlier is thinking about continuing series no publisher wants her to continue because a new instalment means they have to reprint previous instalments, and that costs money. This would be great, of course, for those of us who loves her books.
With bricks and mortar music and book shops turning belly up in the onslaught of on-line shopping this is one of the very few possible near future scenarios. No further need for the media industry! It comes as no surprise that they fight to retain their position, and being big corporations the have plenty of muscle. Especially now when the legislative bodies around the world jump to support them in their doomed business models.
What is surprising is that a lot of people think authors’ and musicians’ right to earn a living should be buried in the same grave.
For me the core principle is that the originator should be recognised, as in getting part or all of the revenue generated by people wanting to read or listen to their creations. What is wrong with that? I’m all for cutting out the middlemen. Don’t cut the one way an author can protect his or her source of income, though. Because most books don’t get written in stray evenings between dinner and bedtime – authors need to pay their bills, just like you and me.
So. Therefore I support the idea of copyright laws. They need to be changed, but not overmuch. Just stop protecting the megacorps and start protect the originators instead.
And. Theft is theft, any way you cut it.