Sunday, 12 February 2012

Licensed piracy? - Anne Rooney

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!]


Ness Harbour said...

A really important post that is eloquently argued. Thank you Anne

Nicola Morgan said...

Anne, SO important. I gutted about this proposal and haven't a clue how to fight it. (I've sent my testimony to ALCS.) People outside the industry perhaps think I'm doing well financially - if only - but the truth is that with the demise of advances, EASILY my biggest (not that that's saying much) payment each year is from the educational photocopying of my literacy and numeracy titles. I don't get royalties from those books so the only way I can earn is through photocopying. I feel desperate that it may be horribly reduced/eliminated.

Pauline Fisk said...

Thank you so much for this. Michael Gove strikes again, hey?! What a pathetic excuse of a government...!

catdownunder said...

Oh right, same problem here in Australia of course. I look after a small library for a guild and I had a major argument with a student who wanted to copy great swathes of a book rather than buy it. "But you have already paid for it! I have the right to use it because I paid my subs. What are photocopiers for if you can't do that?" All this was screeched at me. Most members of the guild sided with the student. They see nothing wrong with it.
When I explained how little authors get I do not think I was believed. They believe ALL authors are rich and just do not tell people about it - and that it is easy to (a)write a book and (b) get it published.
Like Nicola I do not know what the answer is - although a coordinated letter writing campaign to MPs, education authorities, schools and the media might help a little.

Martha said...

Oh dear. Perhaps we should start selling advertising space inside educational text books... whiter teeth, anyone?

Stewart Ross said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stroppy Author said...

Thank you, everyone. Nicola - I don't know what the answer is, either. We can write out MPs, not that it's going to make a blind bit of difference.

Martha, catdownunder - maybe a combination. Perhaps every book published should include, somewhere prominent, the fee or advance paid to the author. Perhaps if the title page said: 'NiceBook written by StroppyAuthor for £1500 - please do not steal from this book' it would (a) help dispel the myth and (b) shame publishers into paying more.

catdownunder said...

Anne, I think you would need to say approx how many hours it took - so they know you are being paid a pittance per hour!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Excellent post, Anne. The point that making unpaid photocopies is theft (just as pirating software or DVDs is theft) is well made, and we should be making it to our politicians too.

dirtywhitecandy said...

Hear, hear. The trouble is, most of the population think pirating is naughty but okay. It's only the writers who know how much of a struggle it is to make a living creating these books or films.
I was freelance editing in an office today and heard some of the staff discussing sites where they could download pirated films. These people are paid a salary and they're stealing the work of creative people who have a much more precarious way of life. One of them remarked that the film he had watched wasn't very good, and complained bitterly about the 90 minutes of his life that would never be refunded. It never, at all, occurred to him about any kind of loss he was inflicting on someone else.
As you say, Anne (and Nicola et al), if we don't remind people that creative works don't fall out of thin air and we're not all rowling in dosh, no one will know.