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Copyright or not to copyright

Joanne Harris has an interesting post on copyright as it relates to writers here that sparked off a few thoughts because my own views on copyright conflict sometimes.

Generally, I’m in favour of copyright for creators. Let’s get that out of the way right at the start. The satisfaction of having produced something creative and any prestige from having done so does not pay the electricity bill and put food on the table. In the real world, creators need to be able to earn money.

Having said that, much of my conflict on this stems from the way that copyright has been enforced over the last twenty years or so – suing individuals for ludicrous amounts of money for a few torrented mp3s – and the reluctance of many creative industries to embrace the digital reality and increased consumer expectation. A personal example of this is when, after hearing a song while on holiday in France a few years ago, I attempted to purchase it on iTunes (UK) when I got home.

Not available in your country.

Ok. So I, a customer, want to give you money. I wish to purchase a song I like, some of the royalties from which will eventually go back to the band who created it. And I am not allowed to. Amazing.

As a late 30-something, I’m probably from the last pre-internet cohort who grew up expecting to pay for music, TV, and films. Thanks to the reluctance of media companies to embrace the internet and digital downloads, a whole generation of teenagers found that they could not access the content they wanted in the way they wanted it, and so they went looking for a way to get it anyway. I’m not saying that the mass pirating of media that followed was right but it was, in the circumstances, perhaps inevitable. If you put up barriers, people will find a way around them.

Are things improving? In some ways. Phasing out region-delayed releases has probably helped, along with the growth in legal and reasonably priced online stores. I probably buy more singles on iTunes now than I did as a music-obsessed teenager because it’s easy. I buy more books now than I ever did before I bought a Kindle. I’m happy to pay for content I think has value. People are more aware of copyright, and the use of Creative Commons to make it clear when work can be used by others.

It can work, as long as companies don’t misuse copyright law to, for example, remove negative reviews or claims of corruption. Copyright needs to be a balance between the rights of the creator of a work and the rights of others – and sometimes I wonder if we’ve found the right balance.

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