Hmmm, there’s a bunch of pigeons.  Let’s find a cat to throw amongst them. 

Oooh, and lets make it a big, fat, furry one, with really sharp claws and blood still on its whiskers.  One who has managed to disable the bell on his collar and who spends all day sleeping on the couch looking cute and lovable, but only because he’s spent all night out on the prowl looking for things to kill or fuck.  Ah, there’s the one…

Copyright.  Let’s abolish it.

Hehehe, farewell ye pigeons. 

Okay, so that’s a pretty bald statement from a creator of artistic works such as yours truly and I wouldn’t like you to take it on face value as a simplistic solution all in itself.  I mean, just saying we should abolish copyright with no further thought to be entered into is about as sensible as just saying we should simply print more money to get the world out of a recession.  You know, the kind of reactionary non-think that even the most basic grasp of history, economics or human societal organisation will put a halt to, and up there in the logic stakes with pro-lifers committing murder, shall we say.

And yet… and yet… when you do put thought into it, and there are plenty who have, from creative commons to open source, then it doesn’t seem quite so silly anymore, hmmm…

Something dramatic needs to be done.  Globally and finally.  From the music industry to the modern media, the existing business models of organisations involved in the production of creative works are just soooo nineteenth century.  And considering the twenty first century is a digital one, that doesn’t bode well for their survival.

See, this new fangled internet thing has changed everything.  It’s not playing by the right rules anymore, those tried-and-tested old-world techniques for the distribution of information where somebody owns it and other people can’t access it unless the owner gives it to them.  These interwebs are allowing people – just ordinary people, you know, consumers, gasp! – the ability to access information, including –  dare I say it –  creative and artistic original works, directly and immediately, when and where they want it.  Knock me down with a great big chunk of concrete, but turns out consumers of information like doing that.  Heh, who wudda thunk it?

To use the kind of terminology those really smart economist types use, there is a massive demand for immediate and efficient access to creative works in a digital environment.  And we all know what happens when there’s demand for something in a capitalist, consumer-based society such as ours, don’t we boys and girls?

That’s right.  Somebody provides the supply and makes money from it. 

Only thing is, the old distributors, publishers and holders of copyright were too slow and scared to be the ones to do it, so the pirates got in first and now the Old Guard are looking, well, stuffed.

Now.  Copyright.  The ownership of artistic and creative works and the right to make money from them.  Just so we’re clear, copyright is not about protecting the artist, no matter how many times the Australian Copyright Council go on about it’s purpose being to “encourage the development of artistic works blah blah blah” or other similar bollocks.

Copyright isn’t for the artist, that’s a myth.  Copyright exists to protect the distributors of artistic works, not the creators. 

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.  After all, these are the guys who put up the cash to publish, print, record, market and distribute your lovely bit of cultural creation and make sure it gets from you to your audience.  And just so you’re all in the know, I’ll let you in on a secret:  they don’t do it for the love of art alone.  They do need to make money.  That’s where copyright comes in, it gives them a way of getting a return on their investment.

‘Cept then the world moved online and the distribution game changed entirely. 

Ooops.

So now where are we?  We’ve got traditional creative licence holders from major recording labels to the multi-national publishing houses suing the leather hot pants off anyone who they think might threaten their existing way of life, without any recognition of the fact that way of life is already dead and yes, starting to smell by now, too.  They’re going into full siege mentality mode, battening down the hatches and shoring up the defensive lines.  They’ve determined there will be a war and now they are throwing the blows to start one.

Whether it’s music companies suing individual downloaders for $240 million USD and hanging onto their DRM to their last dying breath, or the likes of APRA and the PPCA trying to up licence fees by 2000 times their current rate for the playing of background music in cafes, or the film industry now charging into the same breach as the music industry to shoot itself in the head, or whether it’s print newspapers desperately trying – and failing – to cling on to their place in the pecking order of quality journalism, the end is nigh.  As happens in times of turbulence, the ultra conservatives slither out to feed off the fear.

Case in point:  Ooooh, Google is digitising books still under copyright!!  Oh, oh, you authors and writers, you’ll be harmed, you better squeal loudly and stop them!!  Quick panic, everybody panic now!!!!  

Or something.  Even though the internet public were never going to be able to access anything but a few words of the copyrighted works and then a link to go buy it.  Hmmm.  Let’s just examine that again, shall we?  Somebody sticking some search words into Google that a digitised book still under copyright was relevant to would get to see their search words and then get a great big link to go buy the thing

Frankly, that just sounds like good marketing to me.  The world’s most powerful search engine is putting your book out there to the bazillions of searchers who use it?  There are small business owners and website creators in this world who would happily sell their young into prostitution to pay for that kind of exposure. 

But hey, what do I know, I’m just a writer.

Now, let me tango sideways for a moment to make something clear.  When I say we should abolish copyright, I do not mean we should abolish moral rights – that is, the artist’s right to be acknowledged and recognised as creator of the work and not have their creative reputation trashed by the way others use that work.  If anybody’s going to trash their creative reputation then let it be the artist themselves; plenty of them are really good at it and don’t need your help, thank you very much.

The artist should always have the right to be known as The Artist.  Yes, with capitals too, if they insist. 

We need a system which suits the new world, one which doesn’t try to restrict access to information already old.  It most essentially needs to do two main things:

  1. Ensure artists and creators are paid well for their work when they create it and continued to be recognised as the creators of it
  2. Allow the distributors of such creative works – whether that be the publishers, the record labels, the media organisations, or the artists and creators themselves deciding to do their own distribution in this digital age – to recoup their costs of publication and make a profit

 And we need to do this without punishing the consumer for loving and wanting the work in the first place. 

Yeah, I know, I’m just so radical and out there. 

So tell me, my little budding economists, what happens when you take something which is desired by a large number of people and make it very hard to get and use legitimately?  Oh, that’s right.  A black market is created and people will use that, because there’s no viable alternative.  Think of it like an 80s American movie portrayal of Soviet era Russia – all black market and bad accents.  Then mix in a bit of Robert Louis and his yo-ho-ho, and that’s where we are now, folks…

The pirates are winning, the lawyers are getting rich and the artists are…  well, tell me, how many artists did you see on the last BRW Rich List, then?  Under this current system?  And in the meantime, the audience – your paying public – is copping it from all sides.

Copyright in its current form is a zombie; dead but still walking and eating the brains of any it can get its rotting hands on.  So don’t tell me we need to strengthen the current system.  I’m all for abolishing it and finding something else which might work in its stead.

Now excuse me while I go curl up on the couch and look lovable…

Kath.