Copyright: We Need a Rethink

I’ve been thinking about copyright for a while now, after Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America announced they were representing Alan Dean Foster in his bid to get paid by Disney. And I’ve been thinking about copyright and patents, too..

For a quick refresher about Foster’s plight: Disney bought LucasFilm and 20th Century Fox. Foster had written book adaptations for these companies. He is still under contract with the companies for royalties, but Disney says they don’t have to honor those contracts because they bought the rights to the book, not the rights to pay royalties. Disney’s refusal to pay Foster for his work, yet still sell it and make money, is unusual in that they’re smacking a famous writer upside the head, but it isn’t unprecedented. And if he was a writer of little fame? No one would even be talking about them being shafted, because little guys don’t matter.

Copyright is for corporations, not the little guy. Individual authors, musicians, crafters, artists, are all expendable to corporate profits. (And we aren’t just talking creatives here. We’re talking about researchers who, through government-funded research, find cures for diseases, then have a large pharma company come in, take their work, slap a patent on it and sell it for millions. Can you guess how many of those millions make it to the actual researchers? That is not the focus of this post, but it is something to keep in mind).

When I first began researching indie writing and publishing, I read a lot of advice. On the legal front, I read about how you need the services of a law company who can send out cease-and-desist requests to those who might steal your work. If you don’t do this, and someone ends up using your work and claiming it as their own and you don’t catch it, when it is finally brought to your attention, courts may side with the thieves. They will assume you don’t care enough about your work to protect it. In the U.S., you have to register and pay fees that allow you to sue for statutory damages. Without this registration, it gets very difficult to protect your work because, basically, it isn’t worth suing the infringers over. If you take them to court over non-statutory damages, you won’t make enough money to pay the lawyer, let alone recoup losses.

Who can pay expensive lawyers to help them steal others’ works? Well, corporations, of course. Like with Disney, those lawyers are able to come up with a ton of reasons why said corporation should be allowed to make money off someone’s else’s work and not pay for it. It never goes well for those who attempt to fight the theft (look at the rulings. The courts say that Nemo and Le Calvez’ creation, Pierrot, are not similar enough for Disney to have to pay him for stealing his idea, but they are similar enough for him to have to pay Disney for stealing Nemo. Really. Le Calvez did copyright a clownfish character in 1995, but who cares about that? He’s not a big corp worth millions).

geralt: pixabay

The way copyright is set up is a huge problem here in the US. What sense does it make, to have The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald finally become public domain in 2021? It should have been so long before now. I’m fine with authors being paid for their work, but those works should be public domain after their deaths. It leads to things like archives setting aside historical photographs that no one can use, because they don’t know who owns copyright and they don’t want to get sued for damages. Books that only have a few copies left (like local histories and genealogies) can’t be copied because the copyright holders can’t be found. They might deteriorate into nothing and their valuable info lost because someone, at some point, might decide to sue over creating that copy.

If you want to know how screwed up copyright is, take a look at Happy Birthday. It wasn’t until 2016 that the courts decided that Warner/Chapell shouldn’t be earning copyright monies off it. Think about how many other companies are making money of bogus copyrights.

openicons: pixabay

I believe Creative Commons is a good first step. It’s not that I think everything should be free (artists and writers and musicians deserve to make a living, too!) but having a sensible copyright that doesn’t favor corporate profits over the rights of creators will help. Get rid of the +70 years. If we must (I don’t think we must), we can make a protected class for corporate icons that will let Disney keep Mickey Mouse private for all eternity. Most copyrights don’t concern such icons, however.

We need a revamp of copyright. We need a revamp that values the creator as much as, if not more than, the marketer and the seller. We need a copyright process that doesn’t require poor authors and artists and musicians to suffer infringement due to lack of funds. And if you can, support indies! Indie artists of all stripes want to produce good work and make a living at it without selling their souls to the big players in their fields.

Cover: kalhh: pixabay

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