Why Copyright Matters

This post is intended to be provocative, but I hope what it provokes is some reasoned and informed debate. I’m not interested in hearing rehashed cliches about how stealing from Warner Bros is a blow for human rights, or how your Cousin put a ton of free stuff on You Tube and made a mint from donations.

Stealing is stealing. And if your Cousin really managed to get anyone interested in forking over some cash, then great. Awesome job. But that was their choice. Doesn’t change the principle of author ownership, or copyright.

i.e – “what’s mine is mine – and if you want it, you can’t just take it and copy it and give it away”.

You want to argue with that simple statement? Then please go away and do it on your own soap box.

So …

Have any of you ever made anything?

Written anything?

Painted a picture? Written a poem? Crafted a sculpture?

Was it original? Did it spring from your own inspiration? Would that thing have existed, had you not bothered to act on the insight that planted it in your head?

Now. Ask yourself. Who owns that thing you made? The idea I mean. The pure essence of the thing. Who has the right to call themselves the author? And derive a benefit from their skill and art?

When you buy a book, a CD, or a DVD, you hold in your hands the  product of an author’s genius. You can enjoy their art, share their insight, and it may well provoke insights of your own. But you cannot, ever, be fairly called the OWNER of the ideas in those books, CDs, or DVDs. You are a consumer, and you have rights as a consumer, but those rights do not include ownership of copyright.

The AUTHOR owns the copyright. That, my friends, is what copyright is all about. And it’s really simple. Beaumarchaise figured it out a long time ago, and the principle of authorship and copyright has been recognised ever since. Until now.

It may be convenient for you as a consumer to employ certain digital processes to ‘format shift’ certain products, to store them as digital files, and thus be able to play them on different devices. Convenient, but not legal. However, no reasonable copyright holder would begrudge this. I wouldn’t.

Unfortunately, as we all know, many consumers are not reasonable. They wilfully confuse ease of copying for legal ownership .

Not the same thing at all.

Let’s call digital piracy for what it is. Theft. Pure and simple.

When you take something from another human being, and hand it out where everyone else can take it too, thus destroying any economic value it might have, you not only ruin a single livelihood, you set in motion a rot that will engulf entire industries, and the cultures they support. Far from promoting freedom of expression, the ‘free exchange of ideas’ suggested by proponents of an unregulated Internet will actually do the opposite.

See the link below for a pretty good overview of the crisis facing all independent creative people in the age of Free Digital Theft. I have excerpted a couple of key paragraphs before the link.

So many things have been said about copyright. A lot of it nonsense! Over the past few years, copyright has been accused of preventing works from being distributed, creating obstacles to consumer’s access to works, lining the pockets of the rich and worse still, standing in the way of freedom of expression.

Enough is enough!

For one hundred years, technological developments have proceeded at an ever increasing pace to say the very least. Authors’ rights have kept pace with those developments and have continued to safeguard a key principle, namely the right of authors to enjoy fair compensation for the use made of their works, while facilitating public access to cultural works.

The fight against copyright, and against the right of authors to live from their art and receive fair compensation, forms the focus of an entire coalition: namely lobbyists from the leading companies on the Net who seek to exempt themselves both from their tax commitments to Member States and their obligations towards cultural diversity and creation; certain consumer lobbies who consider the total and immediate satisfaction of their constituency a necessity, regardless of the negative, harmful impact for cultural industries, jobs in culture and for the funding of future creativity

Support Europe’s creators – support authors’ rights // Soutenez les créateurs européens – soutenez le droit d’auteur.

This isn’t just a European issue, of course.  Many thousands of small to medium publishing companies, film production and distribution companies, music creation and publishing companies have all failed in the last few years, and many others are poised to follow.

And what do we get to replace all these thousands of voices? All that diversity?

Well, apparently, what we have got is iTunes, Netflix, and Megaupload.

Gigantic parasitical companies that exploit content providers, cheapen the value of  creative work to an unsustainable degree, and destructively homogenise culture across the globe.

That’s a recipe for cultural stagnation, and rampant mediocrity.

Brave New World, indeed …

And here’s some more food for thought.

Private copying – sense and sensibility?

1/3 of the world’s population meet daily on networks powered by digital technology, apparently.  A large proportion of them do so to listen to music or to watch a video.  What is the value of this digital technology without the creations?

Well, according to Mr. Higgins, director General of digital Europe, it seems that the more consumers use ICT devices to enjoy creative content, the less the ICT industry should contribute to remunerate creators. They do not want to pay the remuneration for private copying. Their creativity in finding ways to avoid payment knows no bounds. They have proposed a series of possible contributors other than themselves: the state budget, lotteries, broadcasting licence fee, EU funds, etc. Not a word on the profit they generate from the sale of devices whose value, to a great extent, derives from their ability to copy and stock creative works.

They think that they may have won a first battle. Spain just decided to remove its levy system and replaced it with a subsidy from the state budget. From €115m collected from ICT industries in 2011, we go to €5m in 2012 coming from taxpayers money in a country devastated by the crisis.

And as a consequence, what do you think has happened to the sale price of their products now that they do not pay for private copying in this market? Nothing. The prices remain at the same level as before and the same as in countries where levies exist. So device prices have not decreased, consumers do not pay less and creators receive no compensation. How can the ICT industry justify such a direct gift to themselves?

European governments simply should not be spending tax payers money to placate some of the world’s biggest tech companies.

Consumers will hopefully see the Spanish example as proof that removing levies does not mean cheaper devices.

But the ICT industries have not yet won this battle. The SAA is working on a complaint to the European Commission against the Spanish Government for this breach of Spain’s obligations under the copyright directive. Authors have a long history of fighting for their legitimate right to create freely and live from the revenues generated by their works. It goes back to the 18th Century when bookstores thought that they could use works freely without any consideration for their authors, and it continued with any new intermediary using creative content. Creators embrace the wide legal distribution and copying of their works, as long as they can continue to freely create. They will win because consumers need to watch good stories on the screens, and so do ICT industry members.

Last but not least. Commissioner Barnier very wisely organised a mediation on the issue of private copying, between rightsholders who are the beneficiaries of the remunerations, and the ICT industry who pays them. While the mediator has not yet issued his recommendations, the ICT has gone public trying to impose their narrow views on the issue, without any respect for the Commissioner’s process.

Mr Higgins quotes Beaumarchais, and not their bottom line. Good, let us  change roles. I work for the author members of SACD in France, founded by Beaumarchais, and I will quote their figures: Digital Europe’s members’ revenues : €1 trillion. Private copying collections : €648m, i.e. 0.06 %. Do not be fooled.

Janine Lorente

Chair of the SAA board of Directors

About Costa Botes

I'm a freelance film maker based in Wellington, New Zealand. I make mainly long form independent documentaries about characters I find interesting.
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3 Responses to Why Copyright Matters

  1. saabrussels says:

    Thanks for your support!

  2. Pingback: Piracy Canceled Futurama | White Cloud Screenwriting

    • Costa Botes says:

      “it’s often difficult to directly cite how piracy and copyright infringement have negatively impacted the film industry”

      Difficult? Well, not really, but I guess it depends on sorting empirical evidence from anecdotal accounts or opinions. As a working film maker, I can state with some confidence that the market for small indy productions has well and truly crashed, and this is in large part the predictable outcome of consumers choosing to take advantage of files that have been illegally ripped and made available for sharing free online. I’m not sure what the correct economic name for this is, but I prefer to use the word, “theft”. Sure, there is no physical object being traded, but the reduction of value that occurs when a pirate or freeloader takes our work makes the distinction purely academic. There’s no innovation on earth that can compete with ‘free’. IN the 20th century, I felt secure in the knowledge that the law backed my right to own and control my own work; and I had a reasonable expectation that I could sell my work for a modest return. In the 21st century, I’m looking at a sizeable number of consumers who seriously believe everything should be free, and that creators have no rights to their work whatsoever. If you think this worries me, you’d be right. We should all be worried. We need to move on from complacently labelling critics of file sharing as self interested luddites. The roots of our enlightened, democratic culture depend on the free flow of ideas, but those ideas won’t flow when people can’t protect the fruits of their labours. The internet can not be threatened by any law or technical restriction that controls piracy. The only thing threatened by such measures is the ability of moral pygmy internet ventures to colossally inflate their apparent book values. If my input costs were zero, and I was trading in a commodity with red hot demand, I reckon I’d do okay too; but I wouldn’t do that because I (mostly) know the difference between right and wrong.

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