Here’s why no one in the creative industries should vote Green


burning copyright

Having not read the minor parties’ manifestos cover-to-cover (Take a look at the Lib Dems’, and tell me it seems like a good use of time -Ed), I missed this particular policy until it was pointed out on my Facebook feed last night.

Quoted directly from the section of the Green Party website on intellectual property:

EC1011 On cultural products (literature, music, film, paintings etc), our general policy is to expand the area of cultural activity, that is ways that culture can be consumed, produced, and shared, reduce the role of the market and encourage smaller and more local cultural enterprise (see CMS200 onwards). Specifically we will:

b. introduce generally shorter copyright terms, with a usual maximum of 14 years;

Now this really is radical policy. And not in a good way. By any objective analysis this is completely bonkers, and will likely destroy the creative industries in Britain — and here’s why.

At present, copyright lasts (in most cases) for life plus 70 years. This means that for the entire duration of the creators life, their rights to their work are protected, and after their death for 70 years. There are legitimate arguments for shortening that 70 year posthumous continuation, and a reasonable reduction would, I think, be well received by most.

But that’s not what the Greens are proposing.

The wording of the policy is crystal clear on this, they are talking about total duration of copyright. With a usual maximum” of 14 years.

To put this into context: if the Greens got their way, somehow got into government, and managed to pass an Intellectual Property Bill to put this policy into practice, Harry Potter books one through four (at least) would have already entered the public domain. Anyone who was writing something today (Like, oh I don’t know, me? -Ed), would lose their rights to it in 2029.

Which, in the creative world, is basically nothing.

Their policy on peer-to-peer sharing is also a bit concerning:

c. legalise peer to peer copying where it is not done as a business…

So as long as you’re not selling the books/films/music/whatever you’re stealing, then you’re a-okay with the Greens.

I know many of my writer friends see income stolen away from them with the illegal downloading of e-books, and these thefts cannot be batted away with the superficially acceptable argument as applied to big corporations, that it’s not hurting anyone. These are hard-working people who put a lot of time, effort and soul into their craft, and they don‘t deserve to have their pockets picked by what are frankly barmy policies.

The irony is that the Greens have been shouting around how they are the only party who will protect the arts. Based on their own policies, it looks to this writer like they’d destroy them.

Based on this, I can see no reason for anyone in the creative industries to vote Green on May 7th.

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43 comments

  1. Caroline Lucas has clarified that this in an old proposal which is not part of the current manifesto. Also, the 14 year period would begin to run after the death of the copyright holder. See http://www.carolinelucas.com. Brighton residents concerned about this can meet Caroline today at the Media Centre, 15-17 Ship Street.

    1. Interesting, because I’ve heard differently from other Green Party candidates. According to them:

      – The 14yr proposal is a real aspiration, though not an immediate priority as per the manifesto.
      – That it does indeed run from the date of the work’s creation.
      – That although the policy is due for review at some unspecified point in the future, it is current policy and not “an old proposal” at all.

      I also note that Caroline Lucas is not the leader of the Green Party,

      1. Well, if that’s true then it seems there is a debate that needs to be had within the Green Party. Either way, it’s not going to affect the next five years.

          1. Putting the debate around 14 year from death or 14 year from publication to one side, it’s also worth pointing out that the leader, whether it was Natalie Bennett, or Caroline Lucas, doesn’t dictate policy.

            It’s decided by all members and put to a vote at their conference. This means that those joining the party in the recent surge will no doubt have a say in how the policies change in fhe future. If the Greens were ever in a position to implement laws their usual route would be to progressively change them rather than change immediately, and only if it was backed by a public referendum, because that would be the the most democratic way to do it.

            Most people don’t agree 100% with all of the policy document (the big long term vision that covers everything) but by getting involved you have a chance to shape the future direction. For me, I’d rather start with a long term vision and take small steps towards it, rather than one that other parties favour, of short term thinking knee jerk reactions to media and other party rhetoric, and hiding their real plans until after the elections have been won.

            1. “If the Greens were ever in a position to implement laws their usual route would be to progressively change them rather than change immediately, and only if it was backed by a public referendum, because that would be the the most democratic way to do it.”

              Wow. What a terrible idea.

              I’ve never understood the obsession with referenda as “the most democratic way”. They’re a remarkably blunt, and flawed, tool. For big questions and issues, like “Do you think Scotland should be an independent country?” or “Do you think the UK should be a member of the European Union?”. In these cases what is being asked is clear, and the meaning can be understood by all or most. Look at what happened with the AV referendum. How many people do you think really understood what AV was? How many do you think saw it was a Lib Dem aspiration, and answered the question “Do you like Nick Clegg?”?

              Copyright is not straightforward, and a large proportion of those who you would ask to make the decision don’t and wouldn’t understand the significance or the meaning. They’d see, “Do you want books/films/etc without having to pay?”, and rush to a yes-vote before even considering the other side of “Do you want to deny artists their income?”. It’s passing off complex policy decisions to mob rule, which is not the same as democracy.

            2. And actually, your point about it not being the decision of Bennett or Lucas sort of demonstrates my point. It was decided by the ordinary members of the Green Party, and went on the website without any voice of reason stopping and saying “This is an appallingly bad idea, and when artists, writers, etc, see this there will be a bloody riot.”

              The people who have voted this through clearly either do not understand the importance of copyright, or have vested interests swing in the opposite direction. You just need to look at the reactions of the very people who would be effected.

              I understand about not agreeing with every policy 100%, and you’re right that the compromise inherent in being part of a party is being in favour of the long-term, overall vision, even if there are policies you’re not keen on yourself (and, let’s be honest, anybody who says of their party’s policies “I agree with every single one”, is lying). But here I find the long-term aim of this policy so egregious, and what it says about how the Greens view the arts so damning, that regardless of my own politics this would be enough to dissuade me from voting for them.

              Anyone is welcome to disagree, but from seeing the reactions of my writer friends I know that I am not alone in that view.

  2. Isn’t this blog post misleading people, slightly?

    You start by talking about the parties manifestos, and then quote an obscure ‘long-term’ aspiration listed on the Green’s website, suggesting it’s part of their manifesto?

    I’m not a supporter of the Greens, but feel you shouldn’t mislead people.

    1. That’s a fair point, but I’d argue that the manifestos do not include all of a party’s policies, particularly in the detail. The actual statement in the manifesto is looking to cut the length of copyright protection, without giving any indication of how much by. If you go looking for an answer to that particular question, then you arrive at the page I quoted.

      It’s also far from clear to me that it is a long-term aspiration. Neither that it’s potential status as an aspiration means it shouldn’t be challenged.

      Your point about the juxtaposition of manifestos and policy statements is well made, though, and likely a product of my generally focusing on policy in the round. A manifesto is, as far as I interpret it, a distillation of key policy headlines for digestion at election time. I considered it legitimate to follow the signpost in the manifesto to the policy statement from whence it originated, but you’re probably right that I should have shown my working.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Hi please see the web link here for more information on this – basically you are quoting a discussion document, not the manifesto. The party would not be seeking such a change in this parliament, if ever. http://bit.ly/1JhiVP6

    1. Okay, an interesting response.

      It definitely does not say “life of the creator plus 14 years”. It very clearly says “usual maximum of 14 years”. It might be poorly worded, but that’s what it says.

      As for the whole not planning to actually do it thing, I don’t think that holds up either. If a party put in a policy document that they wanted to kill every firstborn, but followed it up with “But we’re not seeking to do this in this parliament, if ever”, I’m still not taking the chance. The ambition has been expressed, which to most creatives is concerning enough.

      Also, you might want to check the “if ever” part with some of the Green parliamentary candidates who have told me that they absolutely intend to pursue the policy.

  4. FYI, from 1912 until 1976 copyright in the US was limited to a 12-year term, renewable for a second 12-year term. It took many years of lobbying by authors, artists and musicians of all kinds to change this to the current version, which is similar to the current UK regime. (The US has since also acceded to the Berne Convention on Copyright). There is no appetite in the US for turning the clock back.

    Just a datapoint from across the pond!

  5. This article just sounds like a Tory trying to sully the Green name, but you haven’t got your facts straight for one.

    Also, people shouldn’t create for money. It’s so obvious in the creation of the music/writing.
    (It’s pretty obvious you just wrote that for some capital gains.)

    People should create for the love and passion of it. A piece of music needs to be written, then heard.
    If someone asked me to listen to their music I would. If someone asked me for money on the street just because they can play a guitar and other people’s songs, I would turn my nose up at it.

    Taylor Swift and her debauchery of the music industry has made me actively turn her music off, because why would she want me to listen to it, when she pulled her latest album (et al.) from Spotify. What message does that give?
    “Give me money. Then yeah okay listen to my album/ someone else’s creativity, BUT YOU BEST BE GIVING ME YOUR MONEY FIRST!”
    It’s holding enjoyment to ransom.
    (By the way, before you ask, live shows is where the money should be taken in. More free access to your music = more fans = more gigging = more money to live on.)

    Not what music is all about.
    Not what creativity is about.

    1. “People should create for the love and passion of it”. Are you for real??? Why should people who work and work and learn skills and devote hours, days, and invest time and energy and emotion to write books or paint or write and perform songs not be paid??? And if they’re not paid, how are they going to live, pay rent, bring up children???

    2. That’s one of the most bonkers things I’ve read. And the bar was pretty high to start with, so congratulations there.

      You’re actually accusing artists of “holding enjoyment to ransom” by wanting to be paid for their work? Are doctors “holding health to ransom”? Are farmers “holding eating to ransom”?

      People have a right to be paid for their work; they have a right to be able to afford to live. That’s not unreasonable. What’s unreasonable is expecting them to work for free.

    3. Oh dear. Don’t you understand that for some of us, writing (novels in my case) is the day job not some cute little hobby to diddle about with in spare time? Books and music and drama etc are work. If you want to listen to/read/watch that work, is it really too much to ask you to pay the creator a little something for it?

  6. As someone else has said, Caroline Lucas has clarified this in her blog.

    As someone who makes her living by her words, I was shocked that they could even come up with an idea like that. But calling for people to remove their vote on just one issue is taking it a bit far, isn’t it? There are a whole load of really strong and positive reasons for artists and creatives – and just about anyone who cares about stuff – to vote for the Greens: transport, housing, education, wages, fair taxation, equality and, yes, the big one, the environment. As my Chomsky-reading 23 year old son said – ‘what’s 14 years when there’s not going to be another 14 years unless we get our shit together’.

    And yes, it was just a policy discussion document, not, as mis reported, the manifesto. That can all be up for change. I have to say, also, that the way this has surfaced smacks a bit of some kind of hatchet job by a Labour Party who know their shit about demographics, and who have Brighton Pavilion (CL’s seat, and where I live) as one of their big election targets.

    1. Well, I’ve actually responded to Caroline’s blog in a subsequent post of my own; short story is that I found it wanting.

      I’m not sure you can blame this on the Labour party, though. I didn’t write this post primarily as a Labour supporter, but as a writer who finds this policy sinister and threatening. Labour didn’t write the policy. Labour didn’t put it on the Green Party website. This is all, to coin a phrase, their own work.

      The fact is that this is still stated as a Green Party aspiration. Whether it is or isn’t in the manifesto — which is extremely vague on the subject — is immaterial, as if you don’t intend to pursue something, you don’t call it a policy and stick it on your website for the world to see.

      1. Or perhaps you do stick it on your website, and then respond to and learn from the ensuing discussion. Which is exactly what is happening.

        Loads of the other policies are pretty good, though.This is the starting point of their economic policy (which they then go on to elaborate in detail over 22 pages – including the offending line about copyright – so please don’t dismiss it as woolly):

        ‘All human economic activity and social and cultural wellbeing are dependent upon the
        integrity of self-sustaining, self-managing natural systems…. Green economic policy must therefore promote the emergence of an economic system which recognises the limits of, and is compatible with, both the natural systems of the planet and the aspirations of the whole of humanity.’

        This is so important that I am really quite annoyed at how this single line in a policy document (and I repeat NOT in a manifesto) has been picked away at to undermine everything else. I would say to all creatives that if there is a party who have one line in their economic policy you don’t agree with, then don’t not vote for them just because of that one single issue. Get in there and discuss, inform, and change it. At least with The Green Party, you know they will listen and learn.

        1. Really? I’ve heard very little listening, and no learning.

          I’ve already explained why I think it makes very little difference whether it’s in the manifesto or not; basically as a stated aim of the party, it’s not good enough to say “Oh but we’re not not going to do it now!”

          As for “Get in there and discuss, inform, and change it,” I’m not going to be joining the Green Party for a number of reasons, but explain to me why my blog(s) don’t count as discussing and informing? Or is that only allowed when you’re agreeing with the policy?

          I’m astounded by the amount of vitriol I’ve received from Green supporters for the “crime” of pointing out that one of their policies is a bad idea. Bad ideas are fine, all parties have them, but to castigate anyone who objects on the basis that they should be willing to sacrifice their very careers on the altar of Caroline Lucas, is worryingly crazy.

          1. Wow. I thought I was discussing. I haven’t shown any vitriol, and I have never said you’re not allowed to say what you think in your blog. My only criticism of your stance – which I think I’ve argued quite clearly – is that calling for creatives not to vote for a party on the basis of one policy alone is somewhat more than pointing out that one of their policies is a bad idea.If you don’t want people who don’t agree with you responding to what you write, then perhaps you should think about disabling comments.

            1. Apologies, my comments on vitriol were not referring to you, but other Green Party supporters across social media. Poorly phrased by me, I’ll admit. You have been unfailingly polite, and I value your comments, notwithstanding that we disagree, as part of the discussion that I wanted to have.

          2. You could, at least get their policy right instead of coming out with your Harry potter nonsense – last I heard JK Rowling hadn’t been dead for 214 years – idiot!

            1. The policy as on the Green Party website says nothing about death. It says 14 years. If it meant 14 years from the creator’s death, then it could have said “life plus 14 years”, or some variation thereupon. Nobody talks about copyright at present being “70 years”. It’s “life plus 70 years”.

              If you disagree with the policy, then fine, you and I are of the same mind. But what I have not misrepresented what the Green Party themselves say on the website; on the contrary, I have quoted it verbatim.

  7. I was intending to vote Green, and I didn’t believe it when I first read it. So I looked it up on the Green Party website, and contacted them asking for clarification; nothing that came from either source was reassuring.

    This is a very alarming policy to anyone working in the creative industries – where it’s hard enough to earn a living as it is. I’ve been as concerned by the hostility of some Green Party members, though, whose attitude is basically that creatives should be willing to be sacrificed for the greater good “and you’d get your citizens’ wage anyway”.

    Or the dismissive “I would say to all creatives that if there is a party who have one line in their economic policy you don’t agree with, then don’t not vote for them just because of that one single issue.” That “one single issue” strikes at the core of everything we do. And, really, would you want to JOIN a party that would destroy you if you didn’t?

    Sorry, Greens. Even if you change the policy I won’t be voting for you… and it won’t be because of “that one single issue”…

  8. So, as a creative who earns my income from royalties on copyrighted material I am supposed to forget all of the other reasons I intend to vote green as soon as I spot a policy that isn’t in my financial interest am I? If I thought like that I’d be a tory.

    1. There’s a big difference between “not in my financial interest” and “ruinous to an entire industry”.

      As a citizen with a vote, you should vote how you see fit. I’m offering an opinion. Take it or leave it.

      1. There is plenty wrong with a lot of Green policy once you start to look at it in detail.

        A group of people seem to have gone into a room, undertaken a lot of green sky thinking, written it up on to flip charts and then published it as policy.

  9. So I’d like to see figures for this. Outside of super smash hits like Harry Potter (which have already made Rowling plenty of money), are there really many creative works that are making their creators significant sums 14 years after their creation? I suppose you could argue that the film industries might have waited until 2011 for Harry Potter one to come out of copyright and make a film of it (although, as they would be unable to hold exclusive rights to it, they might have difficulty making “the definitive” Harry Potter) but it doesn’t seem super likely to me, and, again, Rowling would still have made plenty of money from the books.

    Copyright is not a magical thing given to creators by birthright, it was specifically created to enrich culture by encouraging authors to create. The 14 year line would happily protect that, but perhaps wouldn’t protect some creators from getting mega rich. But that’s always been a fools errand, and really only happens to one creator in a million.

    1. No, copyright was not created to enrich culture, it was specifically created to diminish culture.

      Copyright (and its sister, patent) were originally devised as a system whereby the state could control the dissemination of information by granting or withholding monopoly privileges to publish, and not from any zeal to protect authors and creators.

      Now, an unsavoury past doesn’t necessarily indicate that there’s anything wrong with copyright and patent law as it exists today, though it should alert us to the fact that copyright is fundamentally based on the idea that information should not be freely available without payment and sometimes not even then.

      Any overview of the history of copyright tells us that in the nineteenth century Europe encompassed enormously powerful and commercially valuable ideas. Naturally, the emerging United States wanted to purloin these ideas and was active in disregarding any idea of copyrights or patents. Over time, the balance shifted. During the twentieth century the US became the largest repository of new ideas and as a result reversed its position from pirate to protector, while other emerging powers (China, for example) adopted the position previoujsly taken by the US.

      My point here is that copyright is all about the economic benefit to creators, and that most current discussion is controlled by their vested interests. This blog’s complaint that under the Green Party’s proposals JK Rowling would already have lost the rights in the Harry Potter books is misplaced. I cannot see that why anyone should get upset by the fact that under the Greens’ proposals she might be unable to become even richer than she is already. For a longer and more considered response to the Green’s proposals see:

      http://www.johnband.org/blog/2015/04/28/on-copyright-laws-and-basic-economics

      In the meantime I would invite supporters of current copyright and patent laws to consider the implications if (say) Einstein had claimed monopoly control of the Theory of Relativity. No doubt this would have made him a very wealthy man. But it would not have contributed to the greater good.

  10. Hi there,

    you might want to check out my twitter convo with @tom_chance, about the progress in this matter. Turned out that they completely removed the ’14 years’ copyright proposal and are working on a new policy regarding copyright.

    Noticeably though, the proposal to make ‘peer2peer’ legal is still in there, and also they are agains creators being able to claim damages for IP violations. The idea seems to be that anything that violates copyright but is not for commercial gain is OK.

    A really dangerous idea, as it would basically remove the right of the copyright holder to defend themselves against their work being used by political interests or just being ripped off by casual sharing networks that don’t directly make money from the works.

    Would be great if people keep watching what happens and if the Greens will continue to make policies to further the aims of the neo-liberal commercial interests.

    We are all producing content on the internet now, music, photos, stories. Any policy aimed at reducing the rights of creators will mean we all have less rights over what we contribute.

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