Over the past couple of days, several musician types have attacked Green proposals to reduce copyright term lengths. The latest is John Robb’s article in these pages, which angrily critiques the policy.
Problem is, so far nobody arguing against the policy has properly connected it to the rest of their proposals. For a start, there’s the Citizen’s Income: if the Green Party manifesto was actually to become law (some hope!) then every person deciding to make art – including music – for a living (as well as everyone else) would get the safety net of a small state-funded income, on which they could live (modestly) while concentrating on developing their trade.
This immediately demolishes the key challenge to the copyright policy – that it locks out poorer arts makers and favours the rich. Especially since the Greens are stronger in taxing the rich than the other parties (as they’re an anti-austerity party).
If one looks more broadly at Green ideas, life for musicians and other arts makers would be immeasurably improved under their proposals, except that is, for those who reach the very top of the business and get rich, who’d pay more tax and be less able to keep hold of ownership of their copyright for as long a period. For me, that’s a fairer paradigm.
Another missing detail nobody seems to mention is that Greens propose the life of copyright to be 14 years after the death of the artist (where the law is currently 70 years after death), not 14 years from the creation of the work. These are two very different things. I think this should be made clearer by people discussing it. Copyright is still protected for the lifetime of the artist.
So whereas John states as fact that this policy “takes the art and the music out of the hands of the creators and into the hands of big business,” I believe the very opposite is true: the only people who’ll lose out once a work has entered the public domain are the artist’s related rights holders (companies like publishers or record labels) or at worst descendants, who in my view really shouldn’t be living off their grandparents’ songs! Go make your own art!
Of course I think Artists should get a lot more support during their lifetime, though not necessarily through the monetization of copyright on the open market; more through day-to-day infrastructural support live comfortably while making and sharing their work. One trade-off for that should be that once they die, their work should be in the public domain.
Now, one can legitimately argue that because the pesky Green Party won’t actually have to implement their policies in the near future (as there’s no way they’ll form the next government), they are freer than the other parties to be wacky, imaginative or socially inventive. But I haven’t read anyone make that debate.
Too many commentators, including in these pages, just took a single issue and held it up in isolation, re-purposing it to have a tactical whack at the Greens and a shout in support of their own preferred outcome. And that’s not useful journalism; it’s politicking itself: no different to what the Telegraph and Mail are doing for the Tories, the Express is doing for the UKIPs, or the Mirror for Labour.
The real victim of this is the copyright debate itself, which rolls on and on increasingly blurred by all the smoke and mirrors, without good insight nor decent workable solutions. These are serious, crucial, perhaps momentous issues for the future of the arts. Let’s not abuse them for party-political snark.