Following on from my discussions with Andrew Robinson, then leader of the Pirate Party UK, I have had a brief exchange with his successor, Loz Kaye. Thanks to both for being prepared to come to what is surely foreign territory and give their views.
I have - as you might imagine - questions and disagreements I'd love to pursue, but that's a conversation which will run and run over the next few decades. So here you are: more from the Crow's Nest.
What models exist for creatives to make money without a right to withhold use of their material?
I'll come to the question of money that occupies the minds of all of us who work in the creative industries further on. I think you bring up a key question that is at the heart of how 21st century culture is developing: we are shifting from a witholding model to a sharing model. One of the most obvious examples is social media- certainly much trivia is exchanged- but used well, there is a huge flood of free information being passed on: comments, links to sites and blogs. The internet means that we expect to have access all areas, whether it is from instant updates on the fleeting fame of celebrities to the explosive revelations of Wikileaks. That something accrues value simply because one hides it now seems at best quaint, at worst perversely against the nature of the times.
The truth is that witholding provokes piracy. In particular the labarynthine nature of rights agreements is in fact preventing willing customers paying for content. Things like Digital Rights Management and region coding should have no place in current business models. I am constantly having conversations with people frustrated by how they have been prevented from buying tracks, TV content or films they would quite happily pay for. So, for example, Season 5 of the wittily written series Dexter has been running in the US, season 4 has been running here in the UK, and the DVD of season 3 has recently come out with Europe region coding. Yet, social media [are] full of comments about season 5- the Facebook fan page available world wide promoting the latest episodes. No wonder people throw up their hands in frustration and go to Pirate Bay and download it. Trends in media move very fast these days, and the current IP status quo is not allowing creatives to take advantage of the opportunities.
Indeed, the channels that are seen as legitimate, with the advent of the digital age have made things worse than they were even a decade or two ago. For example I have just got a new mac laptop this year. Upon transferring my iTunes content, a warning came up on one of my (legally!) downloaded tunes that I could only play it on a maximum of 5 devices. Imagine a book you could only open 5 times then it burst in to flames!
I can only urge your readers to insist that the book trade does not go down this route. People are consuming media as never before, and they want to help you by sharing their enthusiasm and taste with other readers. The more barriers you put up, the more you will alienate and turn readers against you.
[I wondered whether it was possible to persuade people of the need for strong privacy on one hand, while removing IP protection on the other; it seems to me the two are inextricably bound up.] Surely trying to tell people on the one hand that some information should be theirs (privacy) and at the same time that other information should be freely exchangeable (media) isn't going to fly?
I understand how this creates confusion, but this comparison is a false one, and one that is important to debunk. We all understand very well the distinction between our private sphere, and the public sphere. I want Manchester council to tell me about local parks, but not list my basil plants on my balcony on their website. To make arguments about one sphere citing the other is not useful, or even correct. I think the writers I know understand this better than most- they are always being asked about their books 'Is it this character based on you?' and so forth. The answer is of course even if it has autobiographical origins, it is a work of fiction intented for the public sphere.
On this subject, I would point out that it is Pirate Party UK that has the most robust view on protecting personal privacy. In the current strategic defence review the policy idea of maintaining all records of internet, phone and mobile traffic has been revived. We are the only party that has been clearly speaking out against this.
How much would you want to weaken IP on an electronic edition of a novel, and exactly how do you see an author - never mind a publisher or a retailer - making money from it?
I see our plans for shifting the copyright time limit as an upgrade, not a weakening. The current excessive copyright periods mean that inevitably the focus is on finding the big monolithic product that can generate income for decades, the Dan Brown syndorme. This neither helps the vast majority of people wanting to make a living from writing, nor the health of our shared literary culture. As it happens, the idea that restrictive IP policy relates to restricted growth is beginning to be accepted by mainstream politicians. In a recent announcement relating to promoting East London as a tech innovation hub, the Prime Minister announced a review of copyright law as a necessary part of the process of facilitating the conditions for creative industries ready for the digital era.
I understand that the serious advent of e-books may be causing a certain amount of nervousness amongst writers. However, once all the iPads and Kindles have been unpacked under the Christmas tree this year, my prediction is that the trend towards electronic written content will be inexorable. This will lead to upheaval, and certainties being turned upsidedown whether we like it or not, or whether IP is aggressively policed or not. It is worth reflecting that new technology has constantly been treated with suspicion, or out and out hostility. The written word survived the photocopier after all.
A time of transformation offers new opportunities. Never has it been so possible for creative people to directly contact the fanbase who want to support them, through websites, social media and direct sales. The site Bandcamp I mentioned before shows it is possible to make an income stream by offering content with a variety of payment models- pay what you think its worth, free and fixed price. This mixing of price models allows fans to access material, and get to know work, rather than feeling fenced off or under attack for liking culture.
All of us making money from our "brainwork" need to bear in mind that we are competing with free- whether there are myriad copies of our work circulating or not. We must accept that we have to be creative in attracting people to our work over, say, all of John Donne's poetry online, or that free DVD with the Daily Mail.
I am, frankly, less concerned about the fate of publishers and retailers, as these are old economy jobs focused on physical product which will become less relevant. I do not see that it is the purpose of intellectual property law to be commandeered for protecting of oldfashioned business methods. Any more than patents were invoked to protect the ice trade against fridges.
How does your approach (to IP) help?
Our approach supports writers in a crucial way by incentivising turnover and amount of product, rather than stagnation. Where there is a limited time for publishers to make a profit, they will be compelled to nurture talent and work harder to maximise income. Also we must not forget the sector funded by the taxpayer via the Arts Council, local government and other initiatives. The real assault on creatives in the UK this year has not been by pirates, but by deep cuts to arts budgets. Every cultural pound is now precious. Yet in my work in theatre I know that an infuriating amount of these resources go to supporting dead writers still in copyright and their agents and hangers on. I would rather this money went to living playwrights.
We find ourselves at a crossroads- of going towards a cultural policy where the needs of artists and fans are balanced, or where there is ever more poisonous confrontation between the two, where only lawyers are the real winners. The music industry, and ...well... the porn industry have shown where the latter leads. Threatening letters from solicitors are even now being sent out to internet users, with innocent people accused, sometimes of the most embarrasing and ridiculous of suggestions of what content has been obtained. In all analyses, the largest part of income of such actions ends up with the lawyers. Larger scale attempts to police IP such as the Digital Economy Act threaten to cut off households from the internet- collective punishment, and hand the power of censorship of certain sites to the government. It was this that lead me to be active in the Pirate Party- it seems utterly antithetical to everything I represent as a creative person.
I do believe the policy of balance and, that much abused word in contemporary politics, fairness, is possible. I am not optimistic. But even in the process of dialogue with sites like yours, I am hopeful.
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