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Copyrights Make Sense!

padlocks, copyrights, creative commonsYesterday I compared Copyrights with Creative Commons licenses. Jenn posted the following in comments and kindly allowed me to uplevel it to a guest post.

I’m a big supporter of copyright protections. Now don’t get me wrong. Creative Commons is a great thing. And if people choose to release all or some of their work that way, I can respect that choice. But what I’m not okay with is when people feel they should have the right to tell me or other creative professionals that we should or have to do the same.

Here are some of the important points I think people sometimes overlook:

1. Perhaps less enters the public domain each year, but I’d argue that far more is created each year with the increased ease of exposure for our work alongside our rights that allow us to monetize that work.

2. That ease of exposure and ease of monetizing (even if in small bits residually) means that people can earn from a creative work for a longer period than they might have been able to a century ago. Rather than insisting on huge up front payments, writers in particular often count on that extended period of smaller payouts to justify the time put into constantly creating new things.

3. The digital age also means that there’s less of a risk (not more) that people will miss out on classics just because they’re not in the public domain. While some lesser known works might be temporarily “lost,” I’d argue that anything truly classic will still find its way to the public through the copyright holder. They have more ways to make it happen now. You can have access without it being free. Personally I find the argument of some people that things should be free or “open” to the public to be more a sense of entitlement than something else. if they want great works released and free for the public, then they can sit their asses down, create them, and release them.

4. People behind these creative works often don’t have the same type of financial security that others have. Copyright, in a way, gives them that (and their families when they’re gone). When they can no longer write a best selling novel, they can retire knowing they can still earn from their past work even though there was no employer contributing to a 401k for them over the years. They can create new versions of past works they own to adapt to new media developments and keep their income coming in. If something happens to them, their spouse and children will still have income throughout their lives to help support the family.

5. While most creative works might not keep earning well long into the future, some will. Should those creators and their families be penalized just because they created something truly extraordinary in that sense? I don’t think so.

While 70 years can be a debatable number (and I’d be okay personally with it being slightly lower), again… who’s to determine when that family stops valuing something? Forget about works created for strictly commercial purposes. I’m a family historian. Should I have the right to publish an ancestor’s diary 30 years or so after their death, even the contents would humiliate living relatives? Should it be a free for all just because some people want access to more commercial works for free?

One of the biggest concerns I have with the overall copyright debate is that people often look at it strictly from a commercial standpoint rather than considering these other issues like privacy which are just as applicable. Copyright doesn’t only apply to commercial works. If the government can wait 72 years to publicly release census documents of legitimate public interest long before that point, then personally I feel similar information owned privately should be afforded similar protection. In the meantime, anyone who wants their work to “get around” more does have options to do so by releasing it under creative commons or directly into the public domain. Despite the cc buzz, none of that’s new. Creators have always had the right and ability to exercise their full rights under copyright law or grant licenses for certain uses.

A guest post by Jenn Mattern, head of AllFreelanceWriting.com. Her last blog: Freelance Writing Jobs – March 23rd, 2010 My ComLuv Profile Her business site is ProBusinessWriter.  Thanks Jenn!

Do you agree? Or not?


Image from http://www.sxc.hu

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Anne

    email sent Rob.

  • I did get a bit long winded, didn’t I.

    Your comments lead me to believe that you couldn’t see what I was trying to say. You seem to be consumed with what copyright gives you but unable to see what it takes away from you.

    Likely you’ll be glad that I just deleted about four paragraphs from here. I don’t think I’m a good enough writer to persuade you on any point.

    In parting let me say that I think copyright is forever … Disney will see that it’s extended when the Mouse faces the public domain again. So I think you’ve got your wish there:)

    Peace and good fortune to you and yours,


  • Anne

    Rob, I’m noodling all this… may even do some more reading… will probably break out in a highly opinionated essay before too long… appreciate your comments.

  • Anne

    Jenn, I’m noodling all this… may even do some more reading… will probably break out in a highly opinionated essay before too long… appreciate your comments.

  • I started to address your points one by one, but it was much too long to keep going (not that I should talk since this post was originally a comment).

    Here’s what it boils down to for me. If you want to “create art,” do it. Profit from it if you want to, or give it away freely if you want to. I disagree that “everyone can create art.” At least successful art. Those who can have a right to make a living from it. Those who can’t have no right to tell others when they have to stop profiting from something they’ve created.

    In the end, you’re still taking an incredibly limited look at copyright issues by talking about art and creativity so much. The written word isn’t always about art. It’s often about business. As much as someone has the right to profit from their creation, they should also be able to stop others from profiting from it (what a pathetic world it would be if everyone just copied each other). Those who are truly creative will create new things. They don’t need to focus on derivative works from authors still around or recently gone. It’s not up to them how someone else’s story continues or ends.

    Sorry you decided to take offense about the “lesser known works” remark, but it wasn’t putting them down. The point was that it’s not up to you or me if that lesser known work should continue to be available, and when there’s significant demand for something it’s in the copyright holder’s interest to make it available (and that the Web makes it much easier for them to do so).

    As for the sense of entitlement comment, as someone with an extensive network of friends who are artists of all types (music, visual, and the written word), I’m going to have to bite my tongue. This isn’t my blog so I’ll be nice. All I will say is that it’s comments like that that make me wonder if copyright shouldn’t be for a longer period rather than a shorter one.
    .-= Jenn Mattern´s last blog ..Freelance Writing Jobs – March 23rd, 2010 =-.

  • Hi Jenn,

    You raise some good points.

    I think everyone agrees that people who create things, be them physical things or intangable things, should recieve compensation, if that is what they wish. If anyone disagrees with that, then it’s not their case I’m defending.

    If I build a chair and sell it then I do not expect to get any income if the person I sold it to resells it. In fact the reseller may sell it for more than I sold it for … a profit. That’s how we expect the world to work when dealing with physical objects. If I want a comfortable retirement then I think everyone agrees that I better save some of my income for that eventuality.

    But what happens if I design a chair? Now we have something that only exists in our mind. Oh we can have drawings or prototypes but the design itself is purly a creature of the mind.

    What can I do with a design? I can build chairs based on my design. I can sell the design to someone else who will build the chairs. I can license the design and collect a royalty on each chair sold. That all seems reasonable. Again, if I want a comfortable retirement, it’s up to me to save for that.

    Now let’s talk about copyright. Originally copyright meant the right to make copies of the book … copy right. It did not limit the use of the text. Anybody could make derived works, translate it into other languages, make public performances, etc. This is very similar to the chair example above. If you wrote the book then you were allowed to make physical copies but others could use the contents for many purposes.

    Since its humble origin, copyright has been expanding and expanding.

    In the USA the original period was 14 years and, if the author survived that period, it could be extended 14 more. Now the term is for the length of the last author’s life plus 70 years, or 120 years for a corporate author.

    So what about works that become such a part of our culture that they are iconic. Can we write about them? Can we do anything with them, or is copyright going to expand to the point where we’re not even allowed to talk about them?

    The WGA objected to the Kindle having a text-to-speech capability. They assert that this is a public performance. I wonder if they object if I read it out loud to my kids. Based in their objection to the Kindle feature, they must then object to someone reading a book to a whole classroom full of kids, right?

    J.K. Rowling sued and won preventing the publishing of “The Harry Potter Lexicon”. This is after she gave an award to the website from which the lexicon sprang. She said of the Lexicon, “This is theft. Wholesale theft.” Well, let’s get it straight that even under all this expanded copyright, it’s not theft … at worst it’s copyright infringement.

    Can you write an essay about an old comic book? Apparently not as illustrated by this article, “Tintin Fans Attacked By Tintin Lawyer”. The lawyer for the Tintin estate is Nick Rodwell.

    “Rodwell’s latest target is Bob Garcia, “a detective novelist, jazz musician and Tintin aficionado,” who has been ordered by British courts to hand over £35,000 or face the possibility of having his house and belongings seized. His crime: writing five essays about the character.”


    So this ownership of everything in our culture can be equally harmful to writers as well as anyone who wants to reference anything in our culture.

    Copyright covers a whole work, but does it cover a single character from a work? Apparently so. In this post, “A Sequel or a Commentary on ‘Catcher in the Rye’?”, Jim Lindgren points out that a court issued an injunction against the publication of a work “that contains a 76-year-old version of Holden Caulfield” from Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye”.


    I don’t know how this came out but even the threat of a law suite has a chilling effect on my creativity. How about yours?

    I suppose I could go on and on with examples but I think you get my point. I’m not objecting to authors getting income from their work and I’m not in favor of blatant copying and substantial infringement.

    I do object somewhat to your statements in your point 3. “Lesser know works” may be the most valuable. And who decides what’s classic and what’s not? One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

    And if anyone exhibits a sense of entitlement it is those “artists” who expect to collect money forever for one single piece of art. This is even bleeding into the fine arts where some are proposing that painters should receive a share of the proceeds every time their work is resold.

    I believe everyone can create art, and the Internet puts us little guys on a much more level playing field than ever before in history. But our discussion is of little consequence in the bigger scheme of things. Right now all our rights are being negotiated away in secrete in the form of new trade agreements under the auspices of the ACTA. It is big business trying to perpetuate their business without adapting to the new realities of the Internet.

    We may looks the Internet as a result and that will be a huge blow to freedom, justice and equality, worldwide.

    I offer this in the spirit of friendly discussion of important issues. I am willing to be persuaded if your ideas are different from mine.



  • Anne

    Passion will do that 😉 Thanks back atcha

  • Thanks Anne. You know… it didn’t feel quite that long in comments! lol
    .-= Jenn Mattern´s last blog ..Freelance Writing Jobs – March 23rd, 2010 =-.

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