In turn, a2f2a.com is the world’s first, and still the only, site founded specifically by music artists and fans for music artists and fans.
So it’s appropriate that John Barron, who leads the UK Pirate Party‘s copyright working group subcommittee, is a frequent, and articulate, poster on a2f2a
As he points out, the strap-line is Start your own revolution – cut out the middleman ! – and, co-founded by UK artist Billy Bragg, a2f2a went online recognising artists need to be paid, and fans want to pay them — directly.
Its goals are to:
- Help each community better understand the other;
- Help find a practical and workable system which offers artists fair remuneration in exchange for access to material by fans; and
- Help set the agenda for discussions about the role P2P can play within the emergent digital record industry.
“We’ve seen some proposals, such as the blank media levy, and a lot of discussion about copyright, and particular aspects such as performance rights and radio plays, and others,” says Barron on one of the hottest the a2f2a discussions.
“Everything I’ve seen has been very good-natured, despite significant differences of opinion, as is only to be expected,” he says, going on »»»
We’ve also had some comments and posts from artists, and I’m getting the impression that there are more who may look at the website and read, whether they directly interact or not.
I’d like to draw your attention to a specific, detailed, proposal, about all this, made not by me, nor by the Pirate Party of which I’m a member and activist. I saw this recently from Techdirt, pointing to an academic paper recently written by Jessica Litman, law professor and copyright expert. The actual paper is quite lengthy, with all the citations and so forth that you might expect. However, summarised down to its essentials, it’s saying some things which make me wonder, How much of this could we actually adopt, or agree as a consensus, here on a2f2a?.
Talking for consensus, from what I’ve seen so far, the two main items that there is wide (though not universal – sorry, Crosbie!) agreement on seem to be:
- That private, personal use, copying, and distribution, for love not commercial gain, should not be restricted
- That artists still need an opportunity to earn a reward, and that commercial use where someone is directly profiting from creative work, should require agreement/remittance back to the artist in some way – leading to the slogan Where money is made, artists must be paid
Both of these have been stated here, and both I agree with and also form part of the Pirate Party core values. Beyond that, however, when I look at the abstract to the paper, and at the excellent summary made by Techdirt/Mike Masnick, I’m wondering if we could find common ground on several of Professor Litman’s proposals, perhaps?
Abstract to the paper:
A copyright system is designed to produce an ecology that nurtures the creation, dissemination and enjoyment of works of authorship. When it works well, it encourages creators to generate new works, assists intermediaries in disseminating them widely, and supports readers, listeners and viewers in enjoying them. If the system poses difficult entry barriers to creators, imposes demanding impediments on intermediaries, or inflicts burdensome conditions and hurdles on readers, then the system fails to achieve at least some of its purposes. [...]
The foundation of copyright law’s legitimacy, [Jessica argues], derives from its evident benefits for creators and for readers. That foundation is badly cracked, in large part because of the perception that modern copyright law is not especially kind to either creators or to readers; instead, it concentrates power in the hands of the intermediaries who control the conduits between creators and their audience. Those intermediaries have recently used their influence and their copyright rights to obstruct one another’s exploitation of copyrighted works.
[Jessica argues] that the concentration of copyright rights in the hands of intermediaries made more economic sense in earlier eras than it does today. The key to real copyright reform, [Jessica suggests], is to reallocate copyright’s benefits to give more rights to creators, greater liberty to readers, and less control to copyright intermediaries.
The Pirate Party support the concept of copyright, and wish to reform it, rather than abolish it, so that it can once again serve its intended purpose of encouraging the creation of new works, so that more is produced than otherwise might be the case, and we all gain from the increase in knowledge and the richness of our culture. However, the freedoms of us all to enjoy the results of that, and in time to develop from that, is the whole point and it cannot work if copyright is so long and restrictive as to impede that. We would seek evidence-based policy, which really does encourage production of work, and which becomes part of our common shared culture, rather than “owned” by anyone, within a reasonable time period.
Litman goes on to suggest that the fact that so many people out there don’t have any respect for copyright law at all is pretty clearly the fault of the current copyright holders who have twisted and abused the law to the point that people just don’t respect it. So, her ideas for copyright reform are based on bringing back “legitimacy” to copyright law by focusing on four principles:
- Radically simplifying copyright law
- Empowering content creators (rather than intermediaries and distributors)
- Empowering readers, listeners and viewers (who, after all, are supposed to be part of the beneficiaries of copyright law)
- Disintermediating copyright away from the middlemen who seem to control the law today
Again, this is perfectly in tune with Pirate policy, and I also support wholeheartedly. The only additional comment I’d make is to point out that the ranks of (2) above are drawn from the ranks of (3), and the barrier to being a “content creator” continues to drop dramatically.
To then accomplish this, [Jessica] suggests the following steps:
- Focus on commercial exploitation (rather than personal use)
- Simplify what copyright covers (rather than breaking out each separate exclusive right within copyright)
- Reconnect creators to their copyright (via a termination right that lets them take copyrights back from third parties)
- Clearly recognize readers’ (or viewers’, listeners’, users’, etc) rights
- Get rid of existing compulsory license (and similar) intermediaries, such as ASCAP, BMI, SoundExchange and others
(1) as discussed above, seems like an early area of broad agreement here. (2) is really just about simplifying the whole edifice so it’s understandable, which is more important than ever now that everyone can copy and copyright affects everyone.
(3) I suspect would fit right in with Billy’s proposals for essentially the same; for the Pirate Party, I expect this is something we wouldn’t agree on, as we propose a much more radical termination right, that copyright should expire entirely (apart from the non-assignable attribution right to be identified as the creator) within a reasonably short time, such as 10 years.
However, I would also point out that even as the Pirate Party becomes politically significant, some of the changes we want would breach international treaties, such as the Berne convention. Therefore these are things we may need to pursue above national level (this is where it’s useful being a pan-European and wider international movement), and may not happen overnight. So… while we might not be satisfied with the proposal here, it certainly doesn’t sound any worse than what we have now, and perhaps begins to establish the principle that creative work is not “intellectual property” transferable entirely like physical property, but something which can and should terminate in time.
(4) is the type of area where Pirate policy would speak for individual freedoms, against for example digital restrictions, and where perhaps (as mentioned above, readers/users are not so clearly separated from creators, and we have a much more participatory environment where it is easier than ever before to create or remix what has gone before. Which is wonderful, and to be celebrated and encouraged in every possible way.
(5) perhaps might be a big fight with some of the vested interests which control existing collection arrangements. However, as was clear in the threads on the ideas such as media levies or ISP taxes, there’s a big suspicion in our minds that these can be a slush fund, and that they tend primarily benefit the collecting agency and the established industry. These organisations have a very bad history in the minds of many people, and could be seen to be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.
As mentioned in some of the comment threads to previous posts here on a2f2a, it may be that initiatives and conversations such as this, and the growing freedom of both artists and fans to be able to connect directly, are the biggest nightmare imaginable for the established “intermediary” media industry.
Finally, I’ll leave you with this thought:
Remember that people love to enjoy and share our culture, and artists love to reach the widest possible audience. Overall, we still have exactly as much disposable income to spend on being entertained and informed as we ever did, and if we can also share more widely than was possible before, or that we could ever have afforded in 20th century physical media, this is good for all of us, and only likely to encourage us to spend more on information, art, and culture, and to create more as well.
[This is my personal take on the Litman proposals.]
John Barron – PPUK
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win ~ Mahatma Gandhi
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