Louder Than War Large
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.

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Chris T-T is an English singer songwrier with 8 thought provoking albums an a brilliantly thought out opnion on every subject... http://www.christt.com

7 COMMENTS

  1. Here’s the thing. Suppose I work on a novel which takes me three years to write, edit and so on. It is published today. Tomorrow I’m run over by a bus. It’s not my grandkids who would be living off the income from this, but my kids.

    A writer (or other type of artist) doesn’t get paid while they are working on something. They are rarely paid much on publication. Their income comes in slowly over a long period of time. Fourteen years is scarcely long enough for royalties to start coming in. Then Disney can go off and make a fortune without my kids seeing a penny.

  2. “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.”

    It’s probably missing because it says that precisely nowhere on their policy page. ( httpss://policy.greenparty.org.uk/ec.html ).

  3. Ben, it maybe isn’t clear but (1) the language of ‘maximum 14 years’ is consistent with copyright language elsewhere of ‘maximum 70 years’ that has almost always referred specifically to years after the death of the artist. (2) it’s not a current manifesto commitment but a future proposal. And (3) for the avoidance of doubt on this issue, here’s Caroline Lucas’ clearing up the interpretation: httpss://www.carolinelucas.com/latest/copyright-standing-up-for-brightons-creative-industries-artists-and-writers

    Patrick, in your ludicrous scenario, your kids would still have 14 years to collect income from your masterwork and the payments don’t STOP when copyright runs out – they make take time to “come in” but they’re still owed during that period.

    Finally, if you really spent three years writing a novel in order to keep your kids, you’re doing it wrong. Art isn’t about leaving a fiscal inheritance. Your kids can go and get good jobs (or write their own novels) and read and enjoy and be proud of your work.

    • Chris T-T,

      The only thing ludicrous here is the proposal of stealing yet more income from artists. In an age of digital piracy and the increased Worldwide culture of expecting music, film, literature etc. for free, this policy is yet another blow against the artist.
      If a politician was to spend 3 years paying for a luxury car, that car would be his to keep and pass down to his children upon his death. Why should art be any different just because it can be copied very cheaply? It is still property!
      Not all art finds it’s audience on first publication and I don’t see that a timescale imposed by law is helping anyone but those that wish to take advantage of other people’s creations.

  4. Just to reply to Patrick;

    To be honest, I think the fear over the book royalties -though on the face of it understandable- doesn’t really hold. For most of us, sales of a new book peak in the first couple of years. And there’s either been an advance, or those first-couple-of-years royalties.

    The authors who are in a position to worry about royalties 14 years after publication (or 14 years after they die, depending which interpretation we go with) are a rare breed, and are authors who likely don’t need to worry all that much.

    And the copyright lapsing wouldn’t in itself stop writers from earning off those works, anyway. It would mean that other people can sell them too, sure, but are we that convinced that readers want to screw over writers, that we think none of them would want to buy the version that supports the writer? And that publishers wouldn’t be seeing the value in being able to market the work based on the fact they support the writer?

    Personally, if 14 years after my first book came out, I’m still worrying about living off those royalties, then I’ve done something very wrong as an artist. And a plumber doesn’t worry about receiving a payout 14 years after laying one pipe. But the plumber has laid something that people can continue to use, and gain from, and hopefully that’s why we make art, too.

    ‘Course, I could be a wonky idealist.

    • No Jay, you’re not a wonky idealist.
      At a young age and as an avid reader, I subsumed my parents teenage book collections. While a handful like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkein still survived and get published today, the majority are by the likes of C.B Rutley, and John F.C. Westerman – popular in their day but all but forgotten by the time I came along 20 years later.
      They now sit, no longer published, no longer sharable except in secondhand copies, unappreciated, and unloved, all because they’re protected for 70 years from their authors deaths (something like 2035 for Rutley, and 2061 for Westerman)
      I strongly doubt Disney are circling waiting for an opportunity to adapt these works when their copyright expires but meanwhile there is no chance of some low budget film maker, discovering, adapting and drawing attention to them because of their art, or some other writer developing a sequel, or spin off, or modern telling of them and highlighting the original.

      It’s not unreasonable for creators to value their work much higher than market forces would actually pay for it, but those forces should be accounted for when legislating for it.

  5. Stop trying to rip off dead artists. The work was done, paid for and prepared by the artist. It’s not totally different from building a house. You don’t take the house away after 14 years of the owners death…or is that coming? Eighty percent of artists get almost no money, let their heirs get a piece. This nation is getting meaner by the year.

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