Cre­ativ­ity can seem sin­gu­larly un­re­ward­ing

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Roy Wil­liams

Copy­fight Edited by Phillipa McGuin­ness NewSouth, 294pp, $29.99 The cul­tural change wrought by the in­ter­net has been pro­found. It is ar­guable that hu­man­ity has not ex­pe­ri­enced a com­pa­ra­ble revo­lu­tion since Johannes Guten­berg in­vented the print­ing press in the mid-15th cen­tury, which led to mass lit­er­acy and was a driver of both the Ref­or­ma­tion and the En­light­en­ment.

But it also gave rise to sharp prac­tice. In Eng­land, by the early 18th cen­tury a con­sen­sus had de­vel­oped that cre­ative artists de­served le­gal pro­tec­tion against those who would copy their work and re­pub­lish it for profit. Queen Anne’s statute of 1710 gave birth to the law of copy­right.

In its ini­tial form, pro­tec­tion lasted for 21 years. Nowa­days in Aus­tralia it lasts for the life­time of the artist plus 70 years. Artists so pro­tected in­clude writ­ers, mu­si­cians (com­posers

June 27-28, 2015 and per­form­ers) and those in­volved in mak­ing movies and tele­vi­sion pro­grams. Cru­cially — and in this re­spect the law has not changed since 1710 — pro­tec­tion ex­tends only to the form of ex­pres­sion of an artist’s ideas, not to the ideas them­selves.

The dig­i­tal era has hugely en­hanced “in­for­ma­tion shar­ing”, which is a good thing. But it has also spawned wide­spread flout­ing of copy­right laws, in­fringe­ment on an un­prece­dented scale. Illegal down­load­ing and up­load­ing is en­demic. Syd­ney pub­lisher Phillipa McGuin­ness, the editor of this lively col­lec­tion of es­says, re­gards these prac­tices as a se­ri­ous threat to artis­tic cre­ativ­ity. Most of her con­trib­u­tors agree.

In a punchy in­tro­duc­tion, McGuin­ness ex­plains that Copy­fight is about “the con­nec­tion be­tween con­tent, cre­ativ­ity and the in­ter­net”. Her fo­cus is on cul­ture and moral­ity rather than black-let­ter law. She poses the ques­tion: “Does the dig­i­tal world give us li­cence to be­have dif­fer­ently, to hold dif­fer­ent val­ues than we did in the ana­log world?” Is theft no longer theft?

It seems many cit­i­zens think so. Plenty of telling sta­tis­tics are cited. We learn, for ex­am­ple, that 29 per cent of Aus­tralians ad­mit to il­le­gally down­load­ing movies and TV shows (which means the real fig­ure is prob­a­bly much higher). Ac­cord­ing to At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Ge­orge Bran­dis, “Aus­tralia is the worst of­fender of any coun­try … when it comes to piracy”.

Ex­ist­ing laws are mostly use­less against in­di­vid­ual in­fringers. Joe Public is not worth su­ing. And in­ter­net ser­vice providers are, as the law stands, largely im­mune from suit.

Who are the big­gest losers? Few would shed tears for the gi­ant elec­tronic media and en­ter­tain­ment con­glom­er­ates and their over­paid ex­ec­u­tives. In the bat­tle be­tween Sil­i­con Val­ley and Hol­ly­wood, there are few, if any, he­roes. In­deed, sev­eral of McGuin­ness’s es­say­ists con­cede that one rea­son for the public’s cyn­i­cal be­hav­iour is its mem­ory of ruth­less mo­nop­o­list prac­tices in the re­cent past. Record com­pany big­wigs were among the worst of­fend­ers. No one likes be­ing ripped off.

But here’s the rub. By and large, the big cor­po­ra­tions and those who run them are still do­ing fine. It’s the artists try­ing to scratch a liv­ing (those be­low the su­per­star level) who are los­ing out fi­nan­cially. Mu­si­cians may be the hard­est hit — by a com­bi­na­tion of illegal and le­gal dig­i­tal be­hav­iour. One con­trib­u­tor, Mel­bourne-based Justin Hea­zle­wood, who has been re­leas­ing al­bums since 2003 as the Bed­room Philoso­pher, laments drolly: “For the over 600,000 YouTube Plays I’ve re­ceived to date: $168. For Spo­tify — noth­ing. Not even an of­fer of a free mem­ber­ship. I’m ac­tu­ally pay­ing $10 a month to lis­ten to my own songs.”

Cre­ative writ­ers have suf­fered too. Very few in Aus­tralia have ever raked in big dol­lars. Ten years ago their av­er­age an­nual in­come was $23,000. Now it is $11,000. As au­thor Linda Jaivin says, “many peo­ple would be sur­prised how many well-known names earn in­comes from their cre­ative work that roughly com­pare to that of a cleaner on a min­i­mum wage”.

The case for root-and-branch re­form of copy­right laws, to erad­i­cate online theft and to el­e­vate the in­comes of cre­ative artists, would ap­pear to be a strong one. Pub­lisher Jose Bor-

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.