5 Seriously Important Facts about Copyright the Media Should Keep on Repeating

About a year ago, John Degen, who is the Executive Director of The Writers’ Union of Canada, wrote a very interesting, yet factious, article on Medium called “5 Seriously Dumb Myths About Copyright the Media Should Stop Repeating”. After replying to a few link shares on Facebook on friends’ timelines, I decided that it was time for me to write a response publically.

The internet changed everything, for better or worse. Instead of adjusting business models, a big chunk of copyright owners simply prefer to put the blame on consumer, which is kind of sad. Some industries have been better at tackling the issue “copyright infringement” than others. However, the biggest problem lies on the law side, as it is outrageously outdated and disadjusted from reality.

Also, I’d like to bring a small reminder to the table: some industries that rely on creativity do not base their business on intelectual property, nor on copyright issues, such as fashion and architecture.

Photo by Braden Kowitz .:. CC-BY-SA

Fact #5. Artists (People) Feel Restricted by Copyright

Formally educated artists are actually usually very aware of copyright and IP usage, as they have been taught about these issues. They also know that in an ideal world copyright will serve to protect their work and not to restrain it in anyway. Funny how he mentions the remix culture and the internet.

While the internet did not invent it the remix culture (true), it did allow non-artists to express themselves through art in a whole new gigantic way. We’re all prosumers now.

And that makes the whole difference. While I can understand that a major music publisher is legally entitled to demand royalties if someone is making money using a non-approved-homemade remix of said song, I cannot conceive the fact that they often actively persecute people, forcing them to take down their own creative work from the internet — even if they are not making any money out of that, if they clearly stated they’re not the copyright owners, so on so forth. I also love how he claims that:

there’s a difference between creative remixing and uncreative copying. It’s true, indeed; yet copyright law does not prevent or acknowledge either one. It just says: if you pay, you can do what you want with it.
Photo by josek .:. CC-BY

Fact #4. Copyright Harms the Public Domain

Degen claims that “There is no “public domain” without copyright” — Well, if there was no copyright, everything would be under public domain, so I guess it’s kind of the other way around.

I like how he uses a very popular book to debunk this non-myth, explaining how “The Little Prince” was still selling well in France and was still easy to find even though it’s not under public domain there. He forgets, however, that after a certain period of time, most copyrighted works actually lose their (commercial) relevance, and many things just end up lost.

In the most of the EU, copyright lasts 70 years after an author’s death. There are many books/records written/recorded by authors who passed in the 50s, 60s, 70s (etc.), whose work has got lost because the publishers that owned them are no longer around and/or their families can’t get them to be interested in reprinting those works. However, if they were in the public domain, said works could easily be reprinted or simple made available to the public through the internet (for instance). It’s a loop hole, and it does prevent ordinary people from accessing culturally and historically relevant works just because. Have you tried to read The Diary of Anne Frank” today that it has been made available under public domain in Poland? And while “The Little Prince” still sells loads in France despite its copyright protection, I’m pretty sure Mozart or Beethoven can say the same about their works, which are continuously recorded by orchestras around the world while being under the public domain.

Fact #3. Copyright is an Attack on Artistic Freedom

Read arguing to Myth #5. I’d like to state, though, that copyright can serve as an attack an artistic freedom, since many of the copyright owners aren’t really artists. So, you can have a major publisher restraining an artist’s creativity by saying “you do what we want instead”. Artists vs. Publishers disputes are endless and often end up with ruptures between both parties. Prince and Kesha are very good examples of this.

Fact #2: Copyright Costs Consumers (and I’m gonna add here taxpayers)

Photo by Libby Levi for Opensource.com .:. CC-BY-SA

Well, it’s true. Two very good examples are IT and academic research, which is still very much publicly funded (at least in most of Europe), yet the copyright industry around academic papers prevents taxpayers from accessing knowledge that they actively payed for — something so apalling that the EU Commissioner for Research, Carlos Moedas, as recently stood up against it. As for IT, if more open source solutions were used across administration, for instance, governments would literally save millions of £££ and the market would actually probably become more competitive instead of being stalled between mega corporations such as Apple, Microsoft or Google.

Fact #1. Copyright only helps Corporations

I wouldn’t say “only”, but at this point definitely mostly. While copyright’s main purpose is (was?) to protect the artist work, with the way things work nowadays is not really like that. Actually, very often, if a singer records an album for a major label that is shelved, he/she can’t buy the masters and release it independently.

Photo by NASA .:. CC-BY

The same way, because of the Mickey Mouse kerfuffle, the US won’t have any work going under the public domain before 2019 (and we’ll probably see this delayed even more in a near future). How does this help a common person, or even the artists in any way? Walt Disney has been dead for 50 years now. Well, one can argue that Marvin Gaye’s family got an extra $7.4 million last year because Robin Thicke and Pharrell listened to Marvin Gaye when they grew up. There’s non-corporation there, I guess.

Let’s #fixcopyright

If you live in the European Union, there is a significant number of legislation adjustments regarding copyright foreseen to happen in 2016. These encompass an incredible amount of possible change. While the text has been already drafted, there is still a lot on the table and you can help to making change happen.

The European Union is now running a public consultation open to every sectors of society about Freedom of Panorama and neighbouring rights, and you should spare some time to answer it.

We are talking about the possibility of having a Digital Single Market, about the possibility of carrying your Netflix subscription with you when you travel between member states…

But there is much more beyond that at stake right now, including our right to link content on the web and our right to take and freely use photographs of public spaces. And before you think that you are obviously allowed to do so, let me tell you that you’re likely to be wrong. Recently, a Swedish court has ruled that the Wikimedia photo database breaches the current copyright regulations. But, at least, you can have a say about the future of a law that is scandalously outdated.

For further reading, make sure you check out MEP Julia Reda’s blog, as she has been actively fighting for a copyright reform within the European Union — basically trying to make things more uniform and simpler to understand across the various EU territories. She has looked into the various copyright legislations and compiled a list of things that are confusing, contradictory and need an update that is in line with a society that has internet as a focal point and mean of communication. Ultimately, her goal is to harmonise the current legislation across the EU Member States.

Photo by Libby Levi for Opensource.com .:. CC-BY-SA

Disclaimer: I am an advocate for open content and for an open web. I am not against copyright. I do believe that artists (and creatives, for what matters) should be paid for their work, but I also believe that the current business models and legislation are inadequate. I have been working in the creative industries for nearly a decade as a media professional, and as part of both the music and video gaming industries. I stand against a law that is outdated and brings more trouble than solutions.