Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Copyright education - by Nicola Morgan

A while ago, I was tidying up after a school event. The librarian had already started her next class, which, I quickly surmised, was the annual “tell them about copyright and plagiarism” lesson for new senior school pupils. Hooray! So, I listened in.

After explaining something about copyright and plagiarism, she gave the reasons why they shouldn’t break the laws. Well, she gave two reasons.
  1. You might get caught plagiarizing in an exam or coursework and then you could be disqualified. 
  2. You are committing a crime and if you get caught you could get a criminal record and/or pay other penalties. 
These reasons, though true, are neither the whole truth, nor the most important truths, nor the arguments most likely to convince. We (people in general) are not very good at risk analysis. These risks seem far off and unlikely and once we observe that in fact it’s very possible to break copyright over and over again and not get caught, the argument loses all power.

Here are some better reasons (which she may have given after I'd left):
  1. If you break copyright laws, you are stealing; in doing so you are directly hurting individual, real people, most often people who really can’t afford to be victims of your theft. (When people hear specific stories of hardship, this is powerful, and most young people care deeply about such things. In fact, it’s my belief that most people of any age care, and those who don’t are perhaps unreachable anyway. Some people will steal and hurt whatever we do or say.)
  2. If you download illegally, you are also putting money into the rapacious pockets of large corporations. (Most people don’t particularly like the thought of benefiting huge companies while harming individuals.) 
  3. If you wrote something and discovered that, although you were making no money from it, someone else was, how would you feel? How would you feel if that happened over and over again, and you remained poor while the people stealing it grew richer and lazier? (The “imagine if it were you” argument is a strong one.) 
I’ve been thinking (and talking!) about copyright and its effects recently, and I’d like to draw your attention to some things.

1. ALCS have produced some wonderful classroom resources, for primary pupils here and secondary pupils here, which outline the issues in useful and clear ways. Consider pointing teachers in their direction?

2. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 27, para 2: “Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author." Just in case anyone thinks we don't have any moral authority to protect our work.

3. You might be interested in the story in Der Spiegel of what happened when Julia Schramm, of Germany's Pirate Party, which campaigns on an anti-copyright platform, discovered that her book was available on an illegal download site. When she sold publishing rights to Random House, what did she think that meant, if she doesn't agree with copyright anyway and allegedly regards Intellectual Property as "disgusting"? Surely a better course of action for her would have been to self-publish or crowd-fund the project, then assigning a Creative Commons Licence?

4. What about TrafficPaymaster, the "scraping" software sold by HowToCorp? Do read this Guardian article. It makes the point that HowToCorp was founded by Grant Shapps, now chairman of the Tory party. He handed the company over to his wife, but I'm guessing there's one member of the Government who just may not be on our side in the copyright argument. I do hope I'm wrong, because we need governments to defend existing laws, if nothing else.

5. And companies that profit from illegal download sites? Danuta Kean explains it brilliantly here. Please read her full piece but these were some points that stuck out for me:
  • That the illegal filesharing sites iFile.it and Library.nu are alleged to have made $11m from ebook downloads. 
  • That "BitTorrent –the technology of choice for illegal filesharing – is estimated to account for 18% of global Internet traffic." 
  • That when the FBI indicted seven executives of the file-sharing site Megaupload, those executives, including Kim Dotcom (!), had allegedly earned $175m from the site. In 2010 Dotcom took home $42m.  
(Quoted with Danuta's permission...)

6. Here is another online article, the Trichordist’s Letter to Emily White, including a personal story of the negative effect on a writer. As Danuta and the Trichordist both argue, it’s not just the file-sharing sites but the companies that sell the hardware to both parties in the transaction; the sites that profit from advertising and hardware sales (Google, ebay, Facebook etc); and the finance companies that provide the money-handling facilities when people sign up for premium subscriptions to illegal file-sharing sites. It seems as if everyone benefits except the creator.

That’s the point: I don’t believe I have a right to earn a living from my writing. What I do believe is that if anyone is going to earn anything from my writing, that person should be me. Not only me, but me foremost, me in control. That's what copyright means. It doesn't mean greedy, rapacious miserliness. It means being able to share in the results of our own creativity, talent and hard work.

And this is important for young people to realise because they, too, are creators. One day, many of them will try to make a career in a creative industry, not only to pay their bills but to contribute to the culture of their time. What will that be like if in the meantime they and we have allowed the Cult of Free to hold sway so that paying the bills is not only difficult but impossible? Creative people must eat, too.

Some people disagree with the whole idea of copyright protection. Fine. Disagree away. I'm telling you why I support it. And why I want young people to know the score. Then they can decide.

Edited to add: Thanks to a friend on Twitter for pointing this out to me today - Japan introduces a tough anti-piracy law.  


Penny Dolan said...

Well said!

I'd like to add that, please, once you have read Nicola's well researched and well-pointed post, do spread the word about it! Off to FB & tweet now.

Catherine Butler said...

Excellent piece. That article in the Spiegel made me smile so wryly that my face has gone lopsided.

Nicola Morgan said...

Catherine - it's a classic, isn't it?! I'd love to hear Julia Schramm's side of the story. Perhaps she's changed her mind about copyright :) In which case, hooray!

Nicola Morgan said...

Oops, clicked before saying thank you to Penny, too. Thank you, Penny!

JO said...

Isn't it depressing that we need posts like this. It seems so obvious that stealing someone else's work is just wrong - appealing to self-interest, or pointing out the rapacious nature of businesses that profit, that's all a side-issue. It's part of respecting each other - I just wish it were 'taught' as part of being in a family, rather than schools teaching it in special lessons. (Sorry, I sound like an old person!)

catdownunder said...

And another reason it is important to respect copyright is because not all countries in the world do and we have to be able to set an example in the English speaking world where it does matter! If we breach our own laws we can hardly campaign for copyright for writers in other countries who often earn even less than our writers do - if they earn anything at all.

Zoë Marriott said...

Brilliant! Straight to the point of the thing, and without all the buttercream that people like to slather over the issue.

Amanda Lillywhite said...

Well said. In addition to the above, as an Illustrator one of my concerns is that my work may be downloaded and used to support issues or ideas that I disagree with.
I am careful to retain copyright on all my artwork and to explain to clients what this means.
Very few people have a full understanding of the rights of creative people. There was a recent discussion online about using found photos or drawings in blogs and I was surprised at how many thought that they did not need to ask permission from the copyright holder to do this. I don't think this is their fault - they genuinely hadn't thought it through and meant no harm - so it is great to have copyright explained as clearly as you have done in your post. I will keep this link for future reference!

Savita Kalhan said...

Couldn't agree more, Nicola. Thanks for setting it out so coherently! A lot of kids do still think it's okay to download music illegally, but not so much books. When I lived in the Middle East, everyone bought illegal film DVDs because it was the only way to watch a film (no cinemas, censored TV etc), that is also changing with the new copyright laws.

shoo rayner said...

well said and to the point - Thanks Nicola

Patsy said...

I agree with you about the copyright issue.

I'd also like to point out that it doesn't just apply to writing. I've seen blog posts by writers, who would never steal another person's writing, which are illustrated with photographs downloaded and used without permission. Remember that whatever it is, if you didn't create it, buy it or ask permission, you don't have the right to use it.

Mark Burgess said...

Excellent, thank you Nicola.

I think another attitude which is very common is that copyright only exists if making money is involved. People think it is fine to use somebody else's work if they're not benefiting financially from it.

adele said...

Excellent post! And Mark's point is a good one!

Nicola Morgan said...

yes, Mark's point is indeed a good one. And the moral rights are as important as the economic ones.

I also completely agree that we should make sure education about artists' rights very much comes into this, alongside and equal to writers' rights. As I say in the article, it's about creativity and creative industries, in all their forms.

Katherine Langrish said...

fantastic post, Nicola. And indeed, if presented to them this way, most idealistic young people might agree.

Lynne Garner said...

Fab post. The problem is many people don't see it as stealing. They can't see the person or people they are harming. And great point made by Patsy regarding the use of other creative works such as photography.

Chris Lott said...

It would be nice if this kind of education *also* included the ability to exercise one's right to Fair Use and that they only have those choices if they choose to use them.

Just as this thread includes people who don't understand the rights of creative people, many creative people don't seem to understand the rights of others when it comes to Fair Use of their works, which isn't something that any creator can deny.

Nicola Morgan said...

Chris - I agree. I don't think any of us would seek to deny it. One of the problems with the law as it stands is that Fair Use (the US term) is so difficult to define. But Fair Use is about quoting extracts, not about copying. There is a grey area that demands a decision, which is where Fair Use comes in, but we're talking about moral and legal rights to have a say in how a piece of work is used, within the law. We are not seeking to curb creativity - far from it.

(PS I wasn't quite sure who "they" refers to in your opening sentence?)

Private Schools Victoria said...

Nicola years of experience teaching and managing a range of challenging behaviours..