Whatever your views on copyright, Green policies are good for the arts
UPDATE: Caroline Lucas has now clarified the policy in a blog post, writing: “There’s been some concern expressed in recent days about an old Green Party recommendation that the copyright period be reduced to 14 years – as I understand it that’s 14 years after the creator dies, not 14 years from the point at which their work is first copyrighted.”
Some people, particularly artists, have expressed some concern about Green Party policy on copyright.
Now, my brother and sister are both artists by trade (she’s a singer/songwriter, he’s an actor/theatrical devisor). I’m a journalist and I’m planning on writing a book over the summer. So this is an area close to my heart too. I thought it would be worth putting this all in some context.
The line people are worried about says this:
“Introduce generally shorter copyright terms, with a usual maximum of 14 years”. A couple of things about this, then some context. First, my sister wrote an album about three years ago. It still gets a little radio play and similar, but, with little publicity, it wasn’t exactly a chart topper. If some big company took it in eleven years time, and marketed it, they could, with this policy, make a fortune selling it without my sister seeing a penny (though she would probably get a lot more and better paying gigs, so it wouldn’t be worthless). So I certainly get the concerns about the policy.
On the other hand, it’s worth acknowledging that the line didn’t just come out of nowhere. There are many contexts in which lengthy copyright can stifle creativity. I understand that the 14 year figure is based on the conclusions from an academic meta study into the optimal length of copyright for maximal economic returns. In other words, when you pool what all of the academic experts think about this complex question, 14 years is the average of their answer. That’s why this ended up as the Green position – it’s not just been plucked out of thin air.
However, I’m not going to get into the detail of arguments about copyright law. Most people who care about it know what they think and probably understand it better than I do. What I do want to do it outline some of the context, and explain why, even if you think this policy is idiotic, I still think Greens have the best policies for the arts.
First, though, a bit of an explanation about how Green Party policy works. Basically, twice a year, there is a conference. Any four members can get together and write a policy, which is worded as an addition to one of the already existing policy documents. We then debate those policies and if most people vote for something to go through, it is added to the document.
Each election, one elected committee of the party appoints someone to go through these documents, talk to experts, etc, and write a specific manifesto for that election – which is signed off by another elected committee. The line above comes not from the 2015 manifesto, but from the long-term policy documents. What the manifesto has to say about copyright is much more vague:
“We need copyright laws that reward creators but that are consistent with digital technologies” and “make copyright shorter in length, fair and flexible, and prevent patents applying to software”. But those are both in a section about “information and digital rights” and it’s not clear to me whether they are only meant to refer to software, or to copyright more generally. There’s no reference to copyright in the section on the arts.
The point is this. A few members have already said that they will bring a motion to change this policy at the Green Party Autumn conference. It’s not something which MPs at this election have committed to push for. Sure, democratic policy making in the Greens means that some things are a bit messy or just plain wrong. But they are fixed easily enough.
More importantly, though, here’s why I think that Green policies are better for artists, whatever you think about copyright:
First, the basic income would be a really big deal for the arts. Paying everyone an unconditional wage would allow artists time to get on with their art, rather than being bullied into applying for crappy jobs while signing on or forced to work in cafes for all the hours that the gods send. A massive boom in council housing and rent caps would make a significant difference too. The biggest problem my artist siblings and friends have is that, half the time, they need to do other jobs to be able to afford to live, which gets in the way of their art. These policies, combined, would significantly reduce, or get rid of that problem.
Second, the Green manifesto is proposing a £500 million a year increase in government funding for the arts, because: “Public support for the arts is part of a civilised society”. Obviously that’s only relevant to those who get such funding, but given that Labour, Tories and Lib Dems are all in effect proposing massive cuts in funding for the arts (in that they aren’t protecting it in a context of massive cuts), this is quite a difference.
Third, Greens are proposing reducing VAT for live performances to 5%, and “modifying regulations so that small-scale live performance in pubs and similar venues is not stifled”.
Fourth, one of the most important funders of the arts in the UK is the BBC. And the Beeb is under pretty sustained attack from most sides, its budget for artistic work (rather than news etc) being under particular attack. In that context, this commitment from the Green manifesto is pretty important: “Maintain the BBC as the primary public service broadcaster, free of government interference, with funding guaranteed in real terms in statute to prevent government interference.”.
Fifth, Greens propose to phase in a 35 hour week. Giving people more free time is highly likely, I think, to lead to a boom in demand for the arts.
Perhaps most importantly, the thing stifling the arts is the same thing suffocating the rest of our society – increasingly powerful global capital, in this case, the big labels. The whole Green manifesto is a blueprint for shifting power from dominant global corporations to communities, from a sterile commodified, homogenous marketplace to a collection of human scale more democratic communities. Ultimately, that’s what the arts need just as it’s what society needs.
Whatever you think about copyright, we can be pretty sure that the vast majority of artists would be better off if the Green manifesto was implemented. In recent years, Greens have been the only party happy to make a case for the arts as valuable in themselves, and that, if nothing else, deserves support.
I was thinking of becoming a member of the Green party as I have voted for your party at every opportunity for the past ten year and more and am active campaigner on national and local issues. The green parties policy to set the term of copyright to 14 years is fundamentally flawed. As a photographer am appalled by the lack on understanding of the creative economy displayed by this policy and it is a direct attack on my means of making a living. I am already fighting tooth and nail just to get paid from publishers and chasing online infringement. I have brought up a family on the basis of my work and at almost retirement age look forward to the income that will come from my past work. This policy would mean that 30 years of my life’s work would be free for publishers to help themselves to if it were to be introduced today. Instead of being self funding in my retirement I would become more dependent on the state as would very many other primary cultural workers.
This is the sort of policy that publishers would love but would wipe out a future for budding creative talent. It would also be a boon for large internet companies such as Google, Yahoo, Apple and Microsoft, who do not produce any creative content themselves but rely on “user generated content” (UGC) to produce the “culture” that they use to enrich their empty platforms. They are well aware that much UGC is on copyrighted works modified or directly stolen and have been campaigning to make copyright protection weaker. The online economy it a digital serfdom where the only ones to benefit are the corporate owners of the platform (Google et.al) and a few token chosen ones who give hope to the serfs. A project that has clearly fed into Green Party policy.
This Green Party policy is an attack on all creative freelancers who rely on copyright and the income from past work to put food on the table and pay the rent. The Tories fell for this sort of thinking when they launched the notorious Hargreaves Review (AKA Google Review) of copyright that was launched by David Cameron at the instigation of Google ( a company whose lobbying budget is the biggest in the world). So the Green Party are working on behalf of tax avoiding US corporations.
Needless to say I will not be voting for the Green party as long as this sort of policy is part of your platform. I will be circulating this information among all my contacts and friends in the industry. The Green Party are now the enemy of all creative workers in the UK if not the world.
I have to say (as an author myself) I’m more bothered by having consistent principles on when the term starts from and when it really stops than by how long the period is.
1) “Creator’s death” is and has always been a foolish and inconsistent way of dating copyright. One artist might drop dead on publication day and another publish at 20 and live to 100. However long or short the term might be, it cannot be fair unless the clock starts ticking at publication.
2) Terms need to be observed, and to end when they’re supposed to, without using trademarks or legal bullying to prolong a copyright that should have expired. At the moment it looks increasingly as if properties that happen to fall into the hands of powerful corporations are going to be effectively copyrighted for ever, which is unjust.
These are, to me, the vital principles. 14 years seems too short, the present 70-years-from-death (or 75-years-but-sometimes-we-mean-120 in the USA) too long, but I honestly don’t know where I’d put the limit – somewhere in the 25-50 year range, probably. I do know that even 120 years from publication would be fairer than 14-years-from-death-unless-their-heirs-are-rich.
Sorry forgot the link: http://policy.greenparty.org.uk
Our members shape our policy
The Green Party aims to create a just, equitable and sustainable society. We focus our efforts primarily, though not exclusively, through the electoral system.
The Green Party is a democratic organisation in which our members decide our policy, opening up politics to those outside the Westminster Establishment.
Our PSS changes twice a year as a result of our democratic process – the Spring and Autumn conferences of the Green Party are the supreme policy making body.
The fact is that neither Caroline Lucas, nor Tom Chance have the authority to interpret the 14 years proposal as ’14 years after creators death’.
It states quite clearly ’14 years’ in the document and only the members can change the wording of that long-term policy statement. The policies are discussed twice yearly. No single member of the Greens can change them, even if they contain obvious mistakes. You could argue that Caroline and Tom have already overstepped their remit by promising to artists. Here is how the policy is decided:
Let also not forget that the same policy section also calls to ‘legalise peer to peer copying where it is not done as a business’ which means any book or record can be shared legally on the internet by any number of people without the artist receiving a penny in royalties.
My hunch is that those policies are not a mistake (according to Tom Chance they have been there online for at least 8 years). They are pirate party style policies, that were quite popular at some time and there is no guarantee that they will be amended or removed, whatever Caroline Lucas or Tom Chance say to make their party look artist friendly. It’s a standard damage limitation exercise which sadly shows that the Greens are pretty much using ‘spin’ like all the other parties.
So you believe that if a company makes a fortune out of your sister’s music and she gets nothing she will say: “oh well, I would have been a millionaire but it doesn’t matter because I got some more gigs and exposure!” Seriously?
I don’t need your basic income, I’d rather keep my income from royalties and from licensing my art. I don’t need grants, I just want the ownership of what I have created and the freedom to choose how to use it.