Everyone knows it's illegal to photocopy books that are in copyright, rip off videos, and copy music from a friend's collection. In schools and colleges, where teachers often need to photocopy portions of books for their students to use in their studies, there's a mechanism for recording the copying of copyright materials and then, through some magic and not entirely efficient process, ALCS - the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society - distributes payments to authors of copyright materials that have been copied. Schools and colleges pay a fee to ALCS for the right to copy copyright work. Although the system doesn't work brilliantly, it is in place and could be improved so that it works better.
But now the government is planning to change the regulations governing copying of copyright materials for educational purposes. In some cases, authors will no longer be paid when schools copy their work. So the authors' incomes - already generally very low - will fall even further. The publishing industry will be damaged further. Schools don't use pirated copies of Microsoft and Adobe software, they pay for an educational license - which is cheaper than the license everyone else pays. The government does not - cannot - demand that Microsoft give software to schools for free. Why should books be different?
Of course we all approve of education. But educational establishments have to pay a fair price for everything else they use. They pay full price for the electricity used to run the photocopiers, don't they? They pay salaries to the teachers who use the materials authors have produced. Teachers' salaries, though not generous, increase over the years - the rates for writing educational books have FALLEN over the last ten years. Money from ALCS is not an extra - it's an entitlement. It's pay for writers' work being used, payment which the government has no right suddenly to withdraw by legislating away the requirement for schools and colleges to pay to copy copyright content.
You don't see the government saying that a GCSE English class can watch pirate videos of the set texts, do you? If they did, Hollywood would come down on them like a ton of bricks, and quite rightly. Is it because writers are individuals, without the clout of a Disney, that the government feels we can be disregarded? After all, if our work were not of any value, schools wouldn't WANT to copy it, would they?
Schools are where we teach young people models of acceptable behaviour. The curriculum requires that children are taught that they cannot copy copyright materials for their own purposes. Rules about plagiarism mean that they will be disqualified from exams if they steal material from books or online resources without crediting the source. This is responsible behaviour that should indeed be enforced and taught.
But the lesson is seriously undermined if the school can steal something a writer has written and distribute it for free, against the writer's wishes, probably without attribution. How is a pupil to distinguish between using stolen text given to them by a teacher and downloading a pirate copy of a game or film? There is no distinction. Books written in the knowledge that they could not be legally copied for free are stolen if they are so copied and distributed. It's like suddenly saying you can shoplift from Aldi and Tesco because only poor people go to Aldi and Tesco, but you can't shoplift from Waitrose and Marks and Spencer because rich people go there. Tesco wouldn't like it - and writers don't like it. Schools can steal from writers because schools are underfunded. If schools can't afford to use the resources they need, GIVE THEM MORE MONEY (or stop them wasting it on things they need less), don't just steal the resources. It sets a bad and confusing example to students as well as endangering the production of further books.
I, for one, won't keep writing books to be stolen. I won't be singled out to subsidise education. If I'm not paid fairly, I'll write books I want to write, not books teachers want to use. The curriculum is about to be revised. Who will bother writing books for the new curriculum if they can't expect to be paid?
Actually, could we argue that free copying is in breach of moral rights? We have a moral right:
"to object to derogatory treatment of the work or film which amounts to a distortion or mutilation or is otherwise prejudicial to the honour or reputation of the author or director."
I think it's prejudicial to my reputation to suggest my work is of no value and need not be paid for.
[Sorry - this post should have gone up yesterday but I got the date wrong! Doh!]