I belong to a novelist’s group and the other day the Google thing rumbled into the usual piracy war. And people holding out about copyright and theft... I’m not going to go into the whole piracy war again. You all know where I stand on it: that it is largely a self-inflicted injury, best solved not by DRM but by reasonable prices and reasonable convenience and availability. Your milage may vary.
What I am going to talk about is copyright and its purpose. Because that’s a debate I believe we have start again.
The purpose of copyright, plain and simple, is to allow the creators of duplicable intellectual property to make a living. To nuture and foster the arts in a better fashion than a patron or storyteller’s bowl did.
The purpose of copyright is NOT (and expressly NOT) to look after look after retail. Or to shelter distributors, publishers, movie production houses or music producers.
Amazon, Google, EMI, Microsoft and every publishing house out there SHOULD HAVE NO INTEREST AT ALL IN COPYRIGHT if it is serving its purpose. If they’re all trotting off with multi-million dollar suits about copyright and who owns it... something is very wrong. If that is all (or even principally) that it is doing: It’s a pointless, worthless law and needs to scrapped, struck from the statute books and buried like ‘patrons’ as having failed in its purpose. They need something that protects creators. The rest are effectively replacable and add little value to society.
And it has failed.
It’s purpose, remember, was to allow the creators of intellectual property -- the most valuable people in any society - without whom George Bezos has no business, and the directors of EMI are out selling vegetables -- TO MAKE A LIVING. To nuture and to foster the creators.
It’s failed and failed dismally. Copyright isn’t just there for JRR Tolkein’s heirs, or Disney or even JK Rowlings. It’s there to nurture the BOTTOM of the system too. None of the above are struggling to make a living. 95% of published authors, who are earning from copyright, are. Therefore, either they should not be in the ‘creation’ business, or there is a problem with how the law has fulfilled its purpose. In my opinion, it has failed almost completely. That’s why Rowena was talking about other ways of writers making a living. Talking about state support. Talking about taking second jobs.
That’s just wrong, gentlemen, ladies, and other animals. We have an international law intented for the purpose of selecting the best talent and letting it grow and flourish. That means that the governments of the world perceived the value of CREATORS. The law has failed, been subverted and perverted. It’s not doing it’s job and now, and with the electronic medium as a potential breakout area, all of the parties who have battened onto the income that was intended for the creators of intellectual property... are trying to keep the status quo, or in Google’s case, muscle in. Leaping up and down... and as the only shred of legitimacy they have for that claim is (hollow laughter) the public interest (See the Australian parallel importation debate, where the principal price drivers are claiming they want to give the public cheaper books) and the supposed interest of the creators. Which they are ‘protecting’, see (and maybe some of the publishers are. Baen can at least claim to be doing a better job than others - but it is still not enough to live on in many cases. And the rest of the chain really can't even say that much.) Telling us that even the crumb we have been left, will be taken away. And many of us are so frightened and desperate that we’re falling in with it.
We need to back off from this. Look at the ‘living’ we earn. Look at the way that copyright derived income is divided up (in most cases more than 90% goes to parties who are not the creators). Look, dispassionately, at the costs in the electronic arena. Look dispassionately at costs overall: Authors’ incomes are calculated as a ‘gross’ under the weird assumption that this is all ‘profit’ - that there are no staff who need to earn enough to pay their COL bills, no equipment, no office, no phones, no medical. Yet profit in every other step in publishing is considered as Nett -- profit after those things are taken off. You will frequently hear the loud protestation from the rest of the chain that they make scant profits...say 3 or 5%. But, if you make the assumption that as they’re all living off the proceeds of the law to allow the creator to earn a living... then surely the creator’s ‘profit’ should only be calculated from point at which they are making a living wage for the most valuable part of the chain. Most authors - 90% - would smile if their profit from the book they took a year to write was calculated from a nett position and that was only 3% -- even if they were being paid minimum hourly wage, and time and half for overtime (I’d be earning more than 50K a year - at minimum wage ;-). I wish I did - and I’d be very happy with 3% profit on that, let alone plus the costs of office, equipment, medical etc.)
There has to be a better way of doing this: either we divest ourselves of that chain, and hire the necessary part on a work for hire basis -- which has a lot going for it in the electronic field, or we consider letting the corporates have copyright to play ducks and drakes with (which is what to all intents and purposes for all but a small percentage they do now) and cop out of it, and just work for hire, charging the sort of rates per hour that other skilled professionals who work for hire do.
Or has anyone else got any other suggestions or modifications? Because as it stands, copyright is not succeeding in its purpose. Most of us are not making a living. And it’s not nurturing and fostering the creative arts.
Or do you think writing should be an amatuer, part-time profession?