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Copyright talk

Posted August 1, 2014 by John Birmingham

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.

37 Responses to ‘Copyright talk’

pitpat has opinions thus...

Posted August 1, 2014

John,

Possibly some of the best writing I have read of yours and I can see your argument having much wider ramifications than copyright and describes the current malaise of all intellectual property. Respect -a much abused term - that underpins almost every aspect of life seems, on the interwebs, to have less prominence once people have the seeming anonymity of a gamer tag, twitter byline, or other means of disguise.

Thanks for the trouble and time you take, you can have my money in exchange for fast paced exlopdey action anytime.

Regards,

Pat

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insomniac swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 1, 2014
It certainly taps into the idea that people would pay for content if they knew they were paying a fair price, rather than steal it because other people (is Rupes people?) are greedy.

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Aaron mutters...

Posted August 1, 2014
People in general will pay if a genuinely fair price is offered, the problem for me usually is the arseholes who will argue about the legal rights while screwing the artist even further because of market forces etc.

Keep up the good work

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pi swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 1, 2014
Those are fine words to put to the concept/issue. But really, does any rational person (as opposed to spotty-faced interweb boy) actually think differently?

It's the same in all walks of life. How much is my time worth to people who are willing to pay for it? If given the opportunity, a good number of people will always choose to spend money on things that give them enjoyment. People are still fronting up to Rolling Stones concerts, and it is literally a geriatric writhing around on stage. Hell, people are still reading Dan Brown novels.

The issue I think, that is very quickly being broken down over the past 10 years, as opposed to when the interwebz came into popularity, is separating people from their shekels. The model that existed before required you to 'register' your credit card details at every god-forsaken two-bit dodgy-dan enabled website, which you might or might not be able to trust. You were then entered into a labyrinthine approvals, spam enabled, and recurring pricing system that almost always invariably shafted you. People either waited until one single 'trusted' supplier could give them MOST of the content they wanted, or simply got it by far easier means.

The issue with people and money, essentially, is trust. People will gladly handover folded stuff, but don't want to hand over CC details that could unknowingly be recurring. So the large 'trusted' resellers of goods swallow the lions share of the profits (i.e. amazon) because joe-sixpack isn't going to put their CC details into every different publishing house in order to get the latest Dick Francis novel. They'll use the aggregator. When people understand that they can pay trustless cash (as in, there is no intermediary) for goods over the internet, without having to worry about anyone stealing their CC details, I believe, the revolution will be especially good for content creators.

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Surtac asserts...

Posted August 1, 2014

<font face="Times New Roman">

</font>

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.”<o:p></o:p>

<font face="Times New Roman">

</font>



</font><font face="Times New Roman">

</font>

And if you haven’t
seen it, I recommend you now go and watch Amanda Palmer’s TED talk on the art
of asking from the artist’s perspective. <font color="#0000ff">http://www.ted.com/talks/amanda_palmer_the_art_of_asking</font>



</font>



</font>



</font>

Blarkon mumbles...

Posted August 1, 2014
The person that raised a million in a kickstarter and then asked her musicians to play for free?

WarDog swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 1, 2014
Congrats Blarkon, that's a troll worthy of a shock jock.

Blarkon has opinions thus...

Posted August 2, 2014
Which has the benefit of being fucking true.

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Surtac would have you know...

Posted August 1, 2014


Sorry, copy and paste borked that completely. My point was simply that you've nailed the heart of it with that line, John. And I fully agree.

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Lulu mutters...

Posted August 1, 2014
"We will make a desert of the creative world and call it free."

Nice reference/paraphrase.

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Paul_Nicholas_Boylan swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 1, 2014
An authors copyright should never expire, and should be inheritable.

I am reminded of the all but lost magnificence of droit moral and droit de suite.

pi is gonna tell you...

Posted August 1, 2014
Really? Forever? "Sorry... you can't take a picture of Tutankhamun. Can you prove you have the permission of the copyright holder?"

Halwes swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted August 1, 2014

Gees PNB now you've made me feel all guilty about downloading Voltaire's Candide for free. I wonder how many inheritors there would be from writing as old as that? Seriously though I don't steal other people's labour or goods. If Voltaire, Dostoevsky etc had not been able to produce and sell their pamphlets they would have never been able to support themselves, in abject poverty mostly, and go on to become some of the most insightful and widely read people in history. If we want to kill the thinkers of today by stealing off them, the children of tomorrow will never have the opportunity to learn from them. That would be a tragedy.

Halwes puts forth...

Posted August 1, 2014

I must admit though that I do trawl JB's Blunt Instrument and your good selves at CBG and use some of the good lines against the bosses in union negotiations. It stuns the hell out of them especially since bosses don't seem to read Blunt Instrument or CBG. Funny that.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan puts forth...

Posted August 1, 2014
@ Halwes - this boss does, and labor negotiations are one of my specialties.

@pi - yes, forever.

Halwes asserts...

Posted August 1, 2014

I would love to negotiate with you one day. It would descend into Marx Brothers high farce I reckon which would be great fun for us both. You'd win of course due to the fact that you are the boss and the capitalist running dogs always win eventually.

Halwes mumbles...

Posted August 1, 2014
@ PNB Have you ever negotiated with Aussie unionists? We don't use the concrete boots tactics of our American brothers. Usually we just try and have some fun with their heads before the screw us.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan is gonna tell you...

Posted August 1, 2014
Unionist blood doesn't taste proper unless they put up a fight.

Halwes puts forth...

Posted August 1, 2014

That's funny. The bosses over here only seem to like the taste of each others genitalia.

Halwes mutters...

Posted August 1, 2014

It's just struck me that some people may classify Rupe, Clive and Gina as thinkers and I retract.

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maxilazi mumbles...

Posted August 1, 2014
Great witnessing the live Birmingham vs criminalities last night in Sydney. Libraries in bed with Google what is that about? 'Access at any price' the librarians lobby so goggle can on sell cultural content to their commercial partners... Taking 5 minute break after 25 minutes of sitting today -
thanks for the IP JB

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Rob reckons...

Posted August 1, 2014
that final line is brilliant.

everytime I steal something online I end up buying the bluray or dvd. If my kids steal music, I end up buying the CDs or the teeshirt or going to a show. Its sad that you can't get paid properly for your endevours, but then I try and sell in an over saturated market. But its sadder that bands cant even sell their Cds at shows and have to give them away in the hope that someone buys a hoody. (which you totally should because the bands make more money out of the merch than the music) But people need to be honest if you are downloading stuff, it is stealing, no ifs or buts. At the same time corporations need to adjust their selling technique and sell the whole cow. Not play silly buggers in Australia in the hope of making money in a particular way. The horse has bolted on closed markets.

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Blarkon reckons...

Posted August 1, 2014
Karma has a way of biting people. A generation that grew up stealing music is going to have their jobs automated away by computers. The jobs that were going to replace them, writing new apps, creating new culture, won't exist because "fuck those artists, I should be able to watch Game of Thrones without paying for it"

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Darth Greybeard ducks in to say...

Posted August 1, 2014
Powerful stuff. And i say that as a reformed downloader, now with UnoTelly, iTunes, Netflix, BBC iPlayer, ITV etc accounts. Information may want to be free. I don't know and I've never asked it. But work should never have to be unpaid whether you're digging a ditch or writing a book.

On the other hand I utterly disagree with Prof Boylan. No copyright or patent should last for ever. Perhaps the creator of the work/idea wants their children to benefit? OK, make it 50 years. But the last century has ample examples of greedy vermin who may have had no time for their parents but were happy to feast on the copyright profits when said parents popped off. Check out the family of Conan Doyle as one example and maybe the Tolkeins for another. And just as no one builds a business in isolation from society, nor does an artist or inventor create ex nihilo (Latin always makes your argument sound better. Or makes you sound like a wanker - I can never remember). Should we be paying royalties to the descendents of that well-known purloiner of others ideas, Edison? Or Bell. Perhaps a Wright Tax on all aircraft with propellers and wings? Bah to you Mr Boylan!

Bunyip would have you know...

Posted August 1, 2014
Prae linguae Latinae increpueris simile delecta es te ipsum.

But then....

Quod sonus similis vobis, sunt vobis usura Google Translate delecta te eosdem in publicum.

Sudragon mumbles...

Posted August 1, 2014
Catapultam habeo. Et nullus evadat: Da mihi pecuniam petræ suae.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan would have you know...

Posted August 2, 2014
Google Translate abominatio.

But where else can you learn some fast conversational Lithuanian when you really, really need it?

Darth Greybeard ducks in to say...

Posted August 2, 2014
(Heavy sigh) No, it wasn't Google translate. When I ran a library for a
couple of years, we got a free magazine called Creation Ex Nihilo which was put out by the Creation Science people. After much internal debate (seriously, I ain't no Nazi book-burner) they were all shredded as they arrived. And I remembered which it was - the wanker one.

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan is gonna tell you...

Posted August 2, 2014
I was commenting on Bunyip's Latin. Yours was and is impeccable.

damian has opinions thus...

Posted August 7, 2014
Semper ubi sub ubi and all that

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan is gonna tell you...

Posted August 7, 2014
Not bad, although the advice is antiquated, if not a bit overly puritanical in this less repressive era when bathing is common.

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Darth Greybeard ducks in to say...

Posted August 2, 2014
And on a related topic, DRM: http://www.cnet.com/au/news/hdcp-2-2-what-you-need-to-know/
This new HDCP 2.2 isn't strictly DRM but it's supposedly there to protect material from copying. Looks an awful lot more like "Hey suckers. If you want to watch legal 4K content, you'll have to replace ALL the hardware." Screw them. Unless I get a monster 4K screen* and sit at arm's length, I probably couldn't pick the difference anyway.

* "No dear, absolutely not."

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Dino not to be confused with puts forth...

Posted August 2, 2014
I did an undergraduate year at QUT.
It's scary there.
Or it was at least in the early nineties.
Did some programming and they fiddled with the compilers.
Who da fk would fiddle with compilers?
Anyhoo IP Law is where it's at.
Makes the Ethics of Genetics a backbeat.

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damian is gonna tell you...

Posted August 5, 2014
A Libertarian paradigm is really just a normative Hobbesian world view anyway (and for that matter is a reductio ad absurdum of the Hobbesian world view). There's nothing grand about it. The world functions because most people trust and do the right thing by each other. Such an order is capable of tolerating a surprisingly high proportion of cheats, peaking at maybe 25% where there's a robust amount of trust in the rest of society. Libertarianism says being a cheat is the only virtuous thing to do, and goes even further with the ludicrous position that everyone can cheat all the time.

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John D has opinions thus...

Posted August 13, 2014
Mr. B,

There are no magical levers you can pull to make most writers well-paid in a market economy - that is true now and it was true when you started out. It's always been tough to be a professional writer.

You can deploy cheap insults and macho posturing but the 'problem' you face is not new technology but that too many people are willing to WRITE for free.

Case in point ... this blog.

John

Paul_Nicholas_Boylan ducks in to say...

Posted August 13, 2014
I don't think this blog is an example of free writing. It is a utility. It is a mechanism to explore new ideas that could lead to money. It is a means by which the author can bounce ideas off of a unique collective mind. It is a marketing tool.

All of which could result in money.

How cool is that? Name any other time in history when that was possible. Sure, its been tried in much, much more limited scope, and always with an elite stain (Gertrude Stein's salon comes to mind) but this is something new.


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