[“Artist”, “creator”, and “writer” are interchangeable terms throughout this post.]
I would like to begin by saying simply that the copyright is here to stay. It will not change. We cannot even end daylight savings time, we will not end copyright law, which many artists support, not to mention many lawyers and politicians. This blog post is not in response to a fear that we may lose our copyrights, but to the illogical position of those who say we should.
This debate is too large to cover in its entirety here, so I will not attempt to do so. I'm open to change, but find most of the arguments lacking. I believe in a free and fair society, but don't feel copyright law will effect the outcome of that ideal.
My biggest argument against ending copyright is the issue of plagiarism. If there are no copyrights, are there going to be plagiarism laws? Why would there be? Under our current system, plagiarism is guarded against by our copyright laws. Would this issue be addressed? To listen to those arguing against copyright laws, it doesn't seem as if it would be.
I am also at odds with the idea that copyright harms creativity—the opposite of this is actually the case—and that if something can be easily duplicated, it should be free for anyone to use. This is a weak justification for theft, that because the original product is unharmed, it's okay to copy a song, a story, or movie.
I do not feel that copyright laws should be limited to seven or fourteen years, as some have suggested. As an artist, I would like to own my work for my lifetime, so that when I'm older I can continue to have exclusive rights to sell it.
Piracy concerns me. I feel that if someone creates an idea, they have the right to own it. Just as someone has the right to own something they buy. But I am firmly against SOPA/PIPA and ACTA. None of these bills would have addressed the real issue behind piracy, and would have smothered the internet, possibly destroying it as we know it today.
Something I've noticed, but am not sure if it's true “generally”, or only for those I have spoken with, is that most of the pirates I've met (some I call friends), are not usually artists. They do not write, paint, make music. They are consumers of art, of entertainment, and do not seem to empathize with the plight of the “starving” artist.
Pirates focus their arguments on corporations, on book publishers, the music industry, and Hollywood, as well as drug manufacturers and other technology sectors. These industries push the pirates, and the pirates push back.
Caught in the middle are people like me, and many artists far more successful than I am, yet aren't “rich” enough to not be personally effected by theft or the loss of their copyrights.
Writers write (and painters paint, and singers sing) for many reasons, but there are two reasons that stand out. It is fun, and there is always a sliver of hope that we can do this for a living.
Let's say an author spends two years writing a novel. She's invested hundreds of hours into this project. She's woken up early, stayed up late, missed dates with friends, spent less time with her children, sacrificed her health. She does this because she know it's her work, and will always be.
Introduce the seven year copyright. After seven years, anyone can
steal use her story, which she's spent so
much time on, and sell it for their own personal profit. The author
would get nothing from them, and her own sales would have to compete
If Simon and Schuster liked her story and published it without her, she would not be able to compete with their marketing department, or with the investment they could put behind her novel—their book.
Pirates make the argument that corporations are ruining the world, ruining creativity, stopping the free flow of ideas, and yet they don't realize they would give corporations the legal right to
use a creator's work, be it art, writing, or music, and sell it.
The irony is that corporations will benefit the most from no or limited copyright laws, for they will have the most resources to take advantage of the situation.
Some see freedom in this. I see anarchy.
Apply this philosophy to physical objects. You would no longer be able to tell someone they cannot enter your home, drive your car, or sleep with your wife. Nice world we would live in without ownership, isn't it?
But what difference is there between physical objects and abstract ideas? In my opinion there is none in the context of copyright laws and piracy, because both objects and ideas have the same impact upon the world we live in. Both ought to be protected.
When a pirate argues against copyright laws, what I really hear is that artists don't have the right to be paid for what they create.
Apply this logic to the real world. What destroys creativity, hard work, and fulfillment more, the right to ownership or the freedom to take?
In this dystopia, an auto worker has the right to a job, and even the right to payment. But he has no exclusive right to his income. He can work 40 or 50 hours a week, but then anyone can sweet-talk the boss and take his paycheck.
If the auto worker lost most of his paycheck to people who didn't do the work, would he work as hard? No. He'd slack off. The auto industry would suffer, consumers would suffer.
Yet that's exactly what pirates are suggesting artists do. We creators should give up our work to people who aren't creative, but who have enough business savvy to come in, take our creations, and sell them for their own personal profit.
Those at the top want to keep what they have, and those at the bottom want what's at the top.
I believe those at the top have every right to keep what they've earned, and those at the bottom have every right to work to get what they want.
I don't believe people at the top should use their money and power to dictate to governments, to prohibit freedom of speech and expression for everyone just because a few are stealing something from them. Nor do I believe the people at the bottom should be lazy and take what is at the top instead of creating their own ideas, their own products, their own future.
I seek the Middle Way, and the system we have now is that way.
Copyright law is far from a black and white issue, and having freedom and having laws are not mutually exclusive in this context. Those who believe copyright laws limit us should take a look at Wikipedia and Linux, and remind themselves that people are opting out of their right to copyright what they create, benefiting society, and that those who do not choose to opt out, and instead sell their ideas, are also benefiting society.
Copyright is not saying that “Because I wrote a book, you cannot write a book.” It's saying “You cannot sell my book as your own.” There's a difference there, an important distinction. Copyright does not destroy creativity, collaboration, shared ideas, or freedom. It fosters and nurtures these ideals.