Letter to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary
On 2002-03-15, this committee requested comments on its investigations into new copyright legislation and controls. It's been a long time since I've contributed to one of these fact-finding missions (burnt out on the whole RIP debate, I guess).
Still, I sat down and wrote this in one quick blast. It's long; there's a summary at the end. I should proofread it some day.
( You won't I hope often hear me pulling the "creative artist"/"established journalist" hullabaloo; but you know, play to your audience. Sorry if I sound like a jerk. Oh, and Lloyd was worried that I've sold out by going for US citizenship: I do get to keep the other one, Lloyd.)
To The Senate Committee on the Judiciary:
Thank you for providing me with this opportunity to express my views. on the emerging digital future. There is a brief summary at the foot of this mail if I take up too much time and space.
It is very easy to present the future as a battle between two camps. Copyright holders, Hollywood, artists, and corporations in one corner. Technologists, Dotcom entrepreneurs, and perhaps consumers in the other.
My conclusions, I suppose, will sound similiar to those you will have already have heard from the latter group.
But I'd like to present my argument as someone who, it would appear, is with the former party.
I am a "content creator", in the sense that I am a columnist for the London Sunday Times newspaper. Copyright, one would suppose, is my livelihood.
Yet I am dead set against any of the expansions of copyright - such as further term extensions, or the introduction of compulsory digital rights management technology.
Why is this?
The tradition of journalism extends further back than current copyright law.
I am paid to write to a deadline. I am paid not to plagiarise. I am paid to provide a different, creative, viewpoint. In short, I am paid to be unique and timely. I am paid, primarily, for the *event* of my writing. I write, and I am paid for that writing once and once only.
My employers are, surprisingly, not much interested in my copyright. They take rights to first publication, and that is pretty much all. All other rights remain with me.
This is a fine tradition, and one that I share with most creative artists. Musicians, traditionally, are paid for the event of their performance. Painters, for the event of their creation of a painting.
Of course, to own copyright is to have power beyond this: to receive monies repeatedly, theoretically, each time my work is resold.
It is tempting to reach for this extra remuneration, but it seems to me rather an arbitrary boon. Painters, for instance, do not get repaid each time their painting is resold. Potters do not get paid again and again for one pot, each time it is used.
At present, I will happily take the few extra dollars such copyright affords me. But what will happen in our new future, when - my own camp says - we must choose between harsher enforcement of copyright, or no copyright at all?
Without stringent copyright controls, would my employer pay me? It would seem so: he pays me now, even while my column is sent out for free across the Web. People buy his newspaper, even though they know that they could see a copy of my column posted online within days of its appearence.
That is because *they too* pay for the event of my writing. They pay my employer to see my writing first.
Would more stringent controls damage my livelihood? I believe so. I live by my reputation, and my reputation relies on the free flow of my information. I know for a fact that many of the job offers I receive occur because readers pass and forward my articles on to third parties. I know that my readership is greater than those who pay my employer. I know that while seeing me a day or a week later is of increasingly diminishing value to the consumer - its importance to me grows.
An article of mine that is so impressive that someone reads it a year from now does not make it valuable to them as much as it is more valuable to me. That person will seek carefully out my next, more timely, words!
Now journalism it is true is a very timely trade. Do I think this applies to all creative artists? Perhaps not exactly in this way.
But as I have said before, all artists to a degree have earned trade from the event. Sculptors from their sale, film makers from the first box office run, musicians from each time they play, novelists from their advance and first printing. What grows after that first windfall is *reputation*, that enables us to receive payment for our next great event.
I have some protections I would dearly love from the Digital Age. I would like to ensure that my works are not passed off as the works of others. If someone else profits directly from my creativity, I would feel it right if some portion of that profit returned to me (but note this does not extend to claims that I have, for instance, rights to the profits of blank media sales). And I would like to, as now, have the power to offer that first event of my creative work to my employer, for a fee.
But I do not want restrictions placed on how far and wide my reputation can be carried. And this is what I see in these new proposals: restrictions enforced on how easily my work can be copied and shared. Changes in the default settings of the generosity of our society with its creations. No passing of my work around without express permission. No gentle, free movement of my words, without my constant tending herding and promotion of them.
I must be honest now: I did not become a creative artist to grow rich. I was much greedier than that. I became a creative artist to become famous, and reputable, and live on in posterity. If I wanted to become rich, I would have learnt a more famously profitable trade. Perhaps a lawyer, even!
I believe what money - and what standing - I do receive comes from the free spreading of my reputation over the strict enforcement of my copyrights. And given the choice of the weakening of my control over the unpaid-for sharing of my work, and strictly enforced, strictly remunerated, but crippling control of my every letter, I will always choose the former.
I am sure there are others who will explain why laws like the SSSCA, DMCA and Sonny Bono copyright extension will slow down the free sharing of creative works. I can only vouch that I find their arguments convincing. I can only reiterate that I am a content creator, and I stand against these actions - this SSSCA, this DMCA, these continuous extensions of copyright into our future - supposedly taken in my name.
I am also - and I am not sure how this alters my influence with your body - not an American citizen, although I hope to be one day. I live in the United States, and I pride myself on being one of those who has had the opportunity to choose to to take part in your country's traditions. The process of become a citizen is a long one, but one that I proudly take. I'd like to take part in choosing the future society I will one day fully join, and that is why I write to you now.
Thank you for your attention,
columnist, London Sunday Times
I am a "content creator" (a columnist with an internationally respected newspaper).
I like many creators, am primarily paid on the first publication of my work. (So, painters when they sell their painting; musicians each time they personally play a song in public; authors' first run of their novel, etc)
My primary means of obtaining new work, and obtaining a high reputation, is the free dissemination of my creations after this brief period of direct payment has past. (Painters works are reproduced and admired; musicians reputation spreads via radio; authors books are reviewed and shared via libraries and via recommendation)
I believe that proposed controls such as the SSSCA will restrict the free dissemination of my work, with little financial benefit to myself. What small additional profits I make from the prevention of every infringement will be offset by the much slower dissemination of my reputation.
Accordingly, as a "content creator" I am firmly against the legislative enforcement of DRM systems, and harsher copyright regimes.