Dropped into Sydney for a day trip yesterday. A flying visit with back to back meetings so no time to socialise outside of work - although one of the meetings was lunch with my publishers which was pleasantly sociable. We discussed Hooper series plans over lunch at CBD Bistrode where I had the beef rib and fascinating starter called 'scrumpet'. (All the meat from a pig's head scrapped off, marinated for a hundred years, presssed into a brick, crumbed and fried.).
Later in the afternoon I gave a talk at the Copyright Agency. They asked me to chat for a ten minutes about what copyright means to me. I talked a little about how tough it was to start earning a quid as a baby writer, how financial attrition cut down the numbers of fellow writers who started with me, until in the end it was just me left. And I discussed my occasional battles with the freetard jihad. (My set-to's have never become physical, probably because they've all been online, but I did hear a marvelous story about an academic at QUT, a total believer in freetardism, who became so enraged during an argument after a Copyright seminar that he punched the person who had the temerity to disagree with him. Punched them three times and stormed off. Being an academic, however, they weren't very damaging punches. Still, I wish I'd been there).
The last few minutes of the talk I read, rather than talked off the cuff because I wanted to make sure I put down my exact thoughts rather than a bunch of rambling faff. I promised to post that bit here:
To me copyright is not some arcane legal architecture designed to deny people what they are due. It is a simple codification of respect.
Respect for the hours, the hundreds or even of thousands of hours which a creator poured into their endeavours, but also the even longer hours and days and years they sacrificed learning the skills to create work of such a standard that they felt confident enough to let it go into the world. Work of such a standard that it was worth the time, not just of the creator, but of the beholder as well. For their time is also limited and once spent cannot be remade or regained in any way. We owe the people who read, or view or listen to or enjoy our work in whatever way they meet it, the decency of our best efforts, and there is not an artist born who has not known the secret shame of failing to the live up to that exchange; a shame which seems to be a necessary part of maturing into our best work.
To me copyright acknowledges that exchange of value. It recognises that a creator has given up something to create something else and, crucially that the creator of that work should be allowed, if she chooses, to ask for something in return. It’s her choice. It’s not extortion. It’s simple decency. If you do not care enough for the work of the artist or creator that you simply can’t be bothered paying for it, then don’t. It’s the artists choice to ask, and it’s yours to decline. But the legitimate remit of your choice does not extend to abruptly seizing from her the work you wouldn’t pay for simply because you are possessed of the will and the power to effect that seizure.
To do so is not to take part in some grand libertarian paradigm shift, it’s simple Hobbesian brutalism, a very small, squalid and unfair skirmish in the battle of all against all that civilised people put behind them a long time ago. We are better than that, most of us. I honestly believe that. When given the option to pay a fair price for a creative work, enough people will do so to keep me at my scribbling for a while yet. If I prove to have misjudged our nature however I know what the end result will be. We will make a desert of the creative world and call it free.