Looking to the left of copyright

I just watched a terrific video interview with Neil Gaiman in which he talks about his experiences with what some may consider piracy on the Web. His story is not new to me and a number of popular authors and artists have had similar experiences including Paulo Coehlo and Nine Inch Nails. The story is usually about an author or artist who releases his or her works on to the Web under a liberal licensing scheme or comes across pirated copies of those works on the Web. The result is often counter-intuitive: an increase in sales and popularity.

As an author or artist your work is your livelihood and the conservative approach is to restrict access to the work by reserving all rights under copyright law and clamping down on infringements. There is a lot of merit in this approach, for sure, but there are also a number of opportunities for those creators who are courageous enough to try something a little more open. Options include using Creative Commons licenses, more accessible purchase options and pricing strategies. I found Gaiman’s experiences in Russia to be particularly interesting. If I remember correctly, Coehlo had a similar experience in Russia, a country associated with music piracy websites and a disregard for copyright law.

Copyright law was originally and is still intended to foster creativity. What we find, in practice, is that Big Media (my term for the international music and movie industry) is engaged in a cold war against new business models and copyright infringers and, almost in keeping with George W Bush-style rhetoric, have made the choice consumers have one between supporting an aging and increasingly ineffective business model and supporting the “terrorists” (these people may be actual terrorists or something similar from Big Media’s perspective). Copyright law is currently being used to stifle creativity, frustrate consumers from legitimately purchasing content they want (the licensing limitations on music, movies, tv series and books which we see through iTunes Store and Kindle books availability is a manifestation of this approach) and manipulate governments to implement draconian penalties through draft treaties like ACTA.

This is not an argument against copyright law but rather its application by vested interests that are often at odds with creators’ interests. Content creators would do themselves a disservice by not exploring alternatives to the conventional model (sign with a label, publisher or equivalent body) and making informed decisions about what would be in their best interests as creators and business people. Rather than being intent on stealing content at the first opportunity as Big Media would have us believe consumers are (this characterization sounds a lot like racist rhetoric we have come across in South Africa), I firmly believe that consumers want to pay for content but it has to be at a reasonable price and through a convenient outlet. In the case of music, movies and tv series, that tends to be downloads for many people. When it comes to books, it is increasingly ebooks from Amazon or elsewhere. Those consumers are who this content is intended for.

So called copyleft options make content more accessible consumers. Think about it.

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