05
Mar
11

The artist’s defence

Since I signed up behind the ideology of the Pirate Party, I feel I must defend my position, as an artist, on the issue of copyrights. I’m expecting another long and rambling text, so I’ll try to hit you with my opinion first, and then you can keep reading, if you want to hear my arguments and counter-arguments and incessant analysis. ‘Creative works’ is such a large concept that the transparency of my politics would suffer if I oversimplified for sake of readability. That, or I just like to hear my own voice.

So, my thoughts on stepping the copyright protection down a notch (several notches, really) and about the commercial copyright protection period below, with handy bold highlights (although in general, I see them as only slightly less annoying than using all caps) for my main arguments. I will start with my position with what I consider to be the potentially most exploited form of art and afterwards, will move on to my thoughts on copyrights in general.

Please, get a beverage of your choice, attend to urgent business first and get comfortable. Ready?

For art’s sake!

I don’t think works from completely different medias should be grouped together in copyright legislation. Music and film are very far apart from software, written works again are a separate kind of issue, which in turn brings forth graphic novels, comics, digital art and traditional art. Personally, I think use and distribution – not to mention demographics – of different kinds of creative works require a different set of instructions. The music and film industry – being, incidentally, also the wealthiest and largest industries – are the loudest opposition to any kind of file sharing, claiming financial damage and profit loss.

As for the most vulnerable creative works, I’m talking specifically of visual arts, by which I mean traditional or digital paintings, illustrations, et cetera. There’s least money backing the field, so it tends to be grouped together with industries that already have a heavy financial backing (or at least the potential to). It also has little to do with the business model of the said industries.

Before I continue, I would like to point out that although I’m a painter, I’m also an animator – I put my animation works out there for free, with my name attached, and I think it’s a thing to do for my own gain. People don’t pay to see what I’ve done, but they can see what I can do, and, possibly, some day, they’ll remember that name when they’re looking to hire or to recommend someone, or, even, when they see it on a commercial product.

One of the key differences between music and visual art, when you try to bring it out to the potential consumers, is that the painter has to pay an extortionate fee to display his work somewhere, with very little expectation for income to even cover the expenses (I was left at about minus 200€ for my last exhibition, and Sini and I shared the costs). The bar or club where the musician usually displays his talent and art costs nothing to the artist (they may even get paid for the gig), because the venue owner counts on getting theirs back from the tickets and drinks and so on, possibly earning more because of the live act.

For clarification purposes, I’m specifically thinking of less established artists; the established ones can fend for themselves, for now. :P

I’ve written about and defended the workings of the art field at length before. Of course, it’s easy to criticise the current financially oriented model, and I don’t have a feasible suggestion on how to change it. To summarise it as shortly as possibly (for me): there are two kinds of visual art, in my humble, apologetic opinion. Those with commercial purposes (book covers, concept art for a film production, advertising, commissioned portraits etc.) and those whose only value is being itself. I have strong personal belief about the necessity of uncommercial art in any culture, but you can read more about it in the abovementioned post. It’s also very long.

People have quoted to me how 90% or so of the profits of a given work rolls in in the first five years, but honestly, I don’t see it being true in case of visual art. Mostly, works of visual art starts paying themself back in the event when/if the artist gets recognised: this is true for both older and newer works. Also, this is why I think the Creative Commons license is a good solution: the artist has the option to choose how his work is allowed to be used. My chosen model is usually ”CC BY-NC-ND”, but there are other, less strict licences. The basic premise is that the artist has the control and can offer easy guidelines for others regarding the work.

This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

What is a copyright? Wikipedia is very helpful on this topic:

Copyright is a set of exclusive rights granted to the author or creator of an original work, including the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work. Copyright does not protect ideas, only their expression. In most jurisdictions copyright arises upon fixation and does not need to be registered. Copyright owners have the exclusive statutory right to exercise control over copying and other exploitation of the works for a specific period of time, after which the work is said to enter the public domain.

The model of the Pirate Party is that the period of time after which the work enters public domain should be shortened to five to ten years, or abolished completely. I do think this is a working model for other forms of art (although I can’t be sure I’m thinking exhaustively enough), as it encourages technological development, innovation and fights stagnation (both in case of open source development and for the commercial organisations being able to compete). A monopoly is rarely a good working model for anything.

The commercial protection period is, however, ridiculously long: it extends seventy years after the death of the artist! Neighbouring rights, attested to the copyrights, protect the artist from plagiarism, but this has plenty of grey area, so I’ll not go there. In case of visual arts, I think a more appropriate strict commercial protection should be around fifteen years. Regardless of the length of the artist’s rights, a model such as some kind of an automatic licensing fee (and attribution) going to the artist would be appropriate. Personally I think a ”reasonable use” option should remain with the artist for a longer period than the commercial protection – but obviously not beyond the artists lifespan.

Laying out the case

And now, fiiiinally, we can move on to my defence for loosening the current copyrights. One of the main reasons is that the law is based on the technological and cultural situation way back to when printing was the height of technological advancement, and, unsurprisingly, rooted in the need of the churches and the governments to remain in control of the information flow. We’re talking a period ranging (depending on which part of the history you consider the actual laws to have been written) from the 15th to the 18th century.

Let me rephrase: the law is based on the technological and cultural situation three hundred years ago.

I think we can all agree that the world has moved on a bit since then. The cries for the preservation of copyrights are based on a hugely outdated cultural and social model. Some say that even if it’s technologically possible, no one should be allowed to break the law. Maybe that means the law and the old establishments should wake up and smell the 21st century. Since we have the tools to further technological development and for making the life of an average consumer easier, it’s ridiculous to demand adherence to a less advanced structure. It’s like suggesting we shouldn’t use the technology for heating our houses, because fireplaces worked just fine for our great-grandfathers. As I said above, I also don’t believe in abolishing copyrights entirely.

When did artists and creative professionals become the Old Establishment, anyway? Aren’t we supposed to be the ones with open minds and the position of opposition, challenging the old farts in their comfortable positions? Or is it me who needs to let go of outdated concepts?

Speaking of old farts and establishments; I would like to bring out an old and respected one, which allows absolutely everyone to get entire copies of creative works entirely free. It’s even enabling a legal and regular practice of copying entire works. Even my mum uses it. It’s called a lib-ra-ry. In the era of Google and Wikipedia, I understand how this service can be easily overlooked. In Finland, correct me if I’m wrong or if my info is no longer valid, it’s legal to make a copy of your library-loaned music CD for your personal use.

Either way, the library, that long-established institution, has, in effect, been the precursor for modern-day P2P model… no?

Plead to common sense

I don’t advocate stealing or other deliberately illegal deeds. The way I justify my pirating is the library model: I try something and like it, I go out and buy it. I think that to a degree, the days of hardcore fandom are numbered. People are less likely to buy entire albums just because it’s from so-and-so, because the variety of available options in almost any genre has grown exponentially since the good old days when Beatles were bigger than Jesus. I don’t think monotheistic, er, monoeffigious fandom will go away entirely, it’s probably pretty hard-wired into us by now. There are also artists (directors, musicians, etc) out there who continue to perform ”up to par”, and they will always have a faithful following. But what’s more common, and these days the revenue comes mostly* from single downloads.

This is a better model for the consumer. If I like one song from a particular artist, it’s entirely possible I don’t like the rest of the music at all. It’s likely I’ll listen to the whole album (I would loan it from a friend, wait till it’s in a library, or, duh, download it) and decide if there’s anything else there I would like. Usually? Not really. I don’t have endless amounts of digital storage space, so I tend to remove anything I don’t listen to and just keep the bits I like.

The same goes for films – people are likely to buy well-known directors’/actors’ films without seeing them first. Or pay the extortionate fares to see them in a cinema. I do this too, for certain directors especially, and for some serial films (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, etc), because I like to see the whole set**, and I’m willing to take the risk of being disappointed. I own almost five hundred original, legally purchased DVDs, which I don’t think is all that many, even. The purchase decision for them can pretty much be grouped into three categories:

  • I’ve seen it and I liked it
  • I want it because it’s [series, director, studio, etc.]
  • Oh, it’s really cheap and it has potential to be good. Go on, then.

My point is this: I would not buy a product I have not seen. If I only bought, rented or got a cinema ticket for films I know I want to experience, I would only be supporting large entertainment corporations and famous directors or writers. They earn enough money already. So, yes, I download a film occasionally, watch it and either enjoy it or not. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t buy it, no loss for anyone. If I liked it, however, it goes directly on my list of films to buy – and let me tell you, that list is far less stagnant than it should be, given my financial situation! There’s also a really good website called Voddler, where you can pay a reasonable rent to watch a film***, or watch some for free. Oh, those clever Swedes! Through this service, I’ve already seen several films that went straight to my to-buy list.

The defence rests

So, since we’ve established that not everyone likes to adhere to enjoying media specifically and scientifically created to please as large a crowd as possible, I would like to raise an example of having a less than average tastes.

Say I don’t want to listen to whatever is popular, much-played and well publicised here in Europe. Obviously, I would then hope to get my kind of music online. Ah, and here we run into problems. On several occasions, I’ve tried to find a way to buy digital copies of music I actually want to listen to. I to purchase digital albums from Amazon Japan, but the app didn’t work. For the sake of clarifying whether I just misunderstood something about the Japanese instructions, I tried the one in amazon UK, but it wasn’t available to my geographic region. On the Japanese site, I would be able to place an order for a physical CD, pay roughly 30€ in shipping costs and get lots of crap I don’t want (ie. the disc and the covers). I don’t even want to think of the amount of carbon dioxide and other side products that hypothetical purchase would cause.

The last remaining legal option to acquire a copy of a given work of music, for a reasonable cost… is to get someone in Korea to use their credit card to buy the music and for me to transfer the money to them and for them to mail the music to me. In this day and age, that’s ridiculous. So yeah, in the end I downloaded the songs I wanted (that wasn’t easy either, by the way). I’ve tried to buy well-known and popular (even here in Finland) Japanese or Korean music via iTunes store or other such apps, and the music is simply not there. (Oh, and the same goes for a large amount of films, too, although they tend to be better available now that Asian things are the bees knees.) I can only imagine how difficul it is to get music or films from a region with less of a fanbase here in the Western front.

I see it as a question of who gains from this kind of a situation? I know the customer is definitely not in the top end of the chain. It also doesn’t serve the artists. Even the off-region industry is experiencing a loss of sale here. And so far, I didn’t do anything illegal – in fact, I went out of my way to look to for a way to give my money to them. Did the regional industry lose or gain anything? No. When I gave up and pirated the music, who gained? I did. The artist did****. Even the off-region industry gained a potential purchase – when someone gets their finger out and realises the world is a global marketplace, right down to the individuals.

There’s obviously also the ‘let them eat cake’ argument is that those who have no money (students and other poor people) to buy music still have plenty of options to listen to music legally and for free from a radio, or from artists who willingly put their music out there to be shared for free. It’s a fair point, I suppose. It’s not like music is necessary for survival. Beggars can’t be choosers. It somehow doesn’t seem right, but obviously we can’t have a different set of rules for poor and rich people… *cough*

The current business model serves the large corporates first, the artist second, and the consumers last, if at all. Whatever happened to ”the customer is always right”? Oh, right. Let them eat cake.

* At least in US: I can’t find any easily accessible data from global/Finnish music revenues.
** Never mind that most of the new Star Wars were terrible (Sorry Sini :D)
*** Also without the hassle of having to go to a DVD rental, and go again the next day to return the film. For me, this means I’ll rather watch one of my several hundred purchased films, or watch nothing at all.
**** For the less quick of you, I shall illustrate: I listen to their music. I like it. My friend hears me play it. He likes it. Maybe he copies it too, and the snowball grows. Eventually, when it’s possible for the artist to have sales in my region, he potentially already has a fan base. Who lost anything?

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