Back in September, I mentioned FutureBook’s Nick Harkaway’s interview with a former official of the UK branch of the Pirate Party. Despite the name, the Pirate Party is not a bunch of wild-eyed file-sharing anarchists who think that information ought to be free because it “wants to be”. Rather, it is an organized political party whose platform is based on the idea that copyright has become excessive and needs to be brought back toward a fairer balance.
Now Harkaway has held another brief e-mail interview with the current leader of the Pirate Party, Loz Kaye. This interview focuses on the way the current IP regime is at odds with the way consumers want to consume the information. In his first answer, Kaye touches upon the way that the current system of staggered releases of digital content can hurt rather than help content producers’ bottom line.
The truth is that witholding [sic] provokes piracy. In particular the labarynthine [sic] nature of rights agreements is in fact preventing willing customers paying for content. Things like Digital Rights Management and region coding should have no place in current business models. I am constantly having conversations with people frustrated by how they have been prevented from buying tracks, TV content or films they would quite happily pay for. So, for example, Season 5 of the wittily written series Dexter has been running in the US, season 4 has been running here in the UK, and the DVD of season 3 has recently come out with Europe region coding. Yet, social media [are] full of comments about season 5- the Facebook fan page available world wide promoting the latest episodes. No wonder people throw up their hands in frustration and go to Pirate Bay and download it.
He tells Harkaway to “urge your readers to insist that the book trade does not go down this route.” But given the pattern of territorial rights restrictions we’ve been seeing over the last couple of years, it would seem to be too late to prevent it.
Later in the interview, Kaye discusses how authors would make money from their books under a regime of decreased copyright protections. Kaye suggests that the current long copyright terms focus the industry on finding mega-hits that will keep earning money for decades, at the expense of a considerably larger number of people who just want to make a living from their writing.
He also notes that there are new business models that offer new opportunities, such as the “pay-what-you-want” model of sites such as Bandcamp and leveraging the way social networking allows making better connections with writers’ fanbase. And he points out that it’s not competition from other paid products that creators need to worry about.
All of us making money from our "brainwork" need to bear in mind that we are competing with free- whether there are myriad copies of our work circulating or not. We must accept that we have to be creative in attracting people to our work over, say, all of John Donne’s poetry online, or that free DVD with the Daily Mail.
Kaye says that the Pirate Party’s model of shortened copyright offers more opportunities for writers and other creators by giving publishers more incentives to focus on short-term moneymakers than long-term, and throwing more monetary support from ever-dwindling government grants to living writers who need the money rather than dead writers who are beyond caring.
He also warns that, when content industries such as the music and porn businesses sue their fans, the lawyers are the real monetary winners—which doesn’t help either the creators or their fans.
I wish Loz Kaye and his party the best of luck in pushing for their copyright reforms. As a minority party, it seems unlikely they will have much effect—but at least they have a better chance of it in the UK than they would in the stagnant two-party system that reigns in the United States.
Kaye knows absolutely nothing about the way publishing works, and his assertions about how shorter copyright would help authors is so wrong it’s sad.
The real truth of the matter is that the only thing shorter copyright does for books, particularly fiction, is move the profit from the creator and the publisher to someone else and their publisher or to a publisher who formats and sells it for people too lazy or ignorant to do it themselves.
Content for sale may indeed be competing with free content, but most of the legally free stuff is produced by amateurs.
Amateurs are all well and good, but most people get better with practice, and most of us also require financial support before we can take the time to practice enough to get to be good on a professional level. So, unless you’re looking at free samples given out by pros to entice you to buy other material, free is generally not as good as the pro stuff.
And if you’re looking at books to emulate the musician’s practices, we have a problem. You see, musicians are making a lot of their (new world) income at live performances. And it’s hard to get people to come see an author for FREE, let alone paying for it.
As for putting out the virtual hat, and hoping people pay, well that has never worked very well, and I’m quite dubious about it working any better in the future.
In short, I think many pundits of this bold new future are suggesting solutions that sound wonderful and generate hideous unintended consequences.