Why copyright does NOT mean money for those who create original material

Quite by accident, I came across an interesting article which throws new light on why copyright is not quite what it is generally supposed to be.

Copyright is not a moral axiom.  There is no teaching in the bible that states it, nor is it self-evident.

The idea behind it is that people should be able to profit from their intellectual or artistic labours.  An example of the problem caused by the lack of copyright is the edition of Chrysostom researched and published by Sir Henry Saville in the 17th century.  It’s an excellent text, but Saville lost quite a bit of money on it because someone bought copies of the volumes as they appeared, shipped them to Holland, copied them, added a Latin translation, and sold the result for his own profit.  This was perfectly legal, and, had Sir Henry not been a rich man, might have prevented the rest of the edition appearing.  A copyright law would have given Sir Henry redress to stop the rival publication.

When the “creative industries” (as they like to call themselves) are lobbying for yet more extensions to copyright, they invariably hold up the right of the artist, the creative person, to be protected.  Yet we all know that the copyright is always sold to someone else, and that, in reality, it is the rights of the middleman, the publisher, the record company, that are at stake.

At the moment, out of the sales of CD’s, only 13% “belongs” to the band.  63% is kept by the record company, and the remaining 24% goes to the distributor.  But the band has yet more costs to pay from “its” 13%; some 28% goes on managers and lawyers and so on.  The remainder is divided among the musicians.

Now that doesn’t sound too bad.  But … when does that 13% start getting paid?  Does the copyright provision actually mean that the artist gets his share?  Well, no it doesn’t.  Because the record company demands that the band repay advances and the like out of that 13%.

So, back to our original example of the average musician only earning $23.40 for every $1,000 sold. That money has to go back towards “recouping” the advance, even though the label is still straight up cashing 63% of every sale, which does not go towards making up the advance.

The math here gets ridiculous pretty quickly when you start to think about it. These record label deals are basically out and out scams. In a traditional loan, you invest the money and pay back out of your proceeds.

But a record label deal is nothing like that at all. They make you a “loan” and then take the first 63% of any dollar you make, get to automatically increase the size of the “loan” by simply adding in all sorts of crazy expenses (did the exec bring in pizza at the recording session? that gets added on), and then tries to get the loan repaid out of what meager pittance they’ve left for you.

Oh, and after all of that, the record label still owns the copyrights. That’s one of the most lopsided business deals ever.

So think of that the next time the RIAA or some major record label exec (or politician) suggests that protecting the record labels is somehow in the musicians’ best interests.

The situation in publishing is no better.  No normal author gets paid very much for the content.

So … could someone explain again, honestly, just why copyright is in the public interest? 

OK … I still do believe that Sir Henry Saville should have some redress.  But I suggest that we’re quite a long way away from that common sense problem, and getting further away with each tweak to the law.

If only our politicians didn’t take bribes from industries so readily!

At last! An unreasonable copyright claim is rejected!

Via the BBC:

Football match fixture list copyright claim rejected

Football authorities in England and Scotland have had a court claim over football fixtures’ copyright rejected.

European judges said compiling match fixture lists needed “significant” work, but did not entail the creativity required for copyright protection.

Yahoo, bookmaker Stan James and sports information firm Enetpulse had been accused of breaching EU copyright laws.

“A football fixture list cannot be protected by copyright when its compilation is dictated by rules or constraints which leave no room for creative freedom,” said the European judges.

“Since a 1959 UK decision that such lists were protected, the UK professional football leagues, most recently acting through Football Dataco, have obtained many millions of pounds from betting operators and newspapers for the use of the lists,” he said.

Needless to say, those claiming copyright are not taking this lying down, and are trying to get the UK courts to overrule.

The decision is an important one, in that it reaffirms the principle that creative work is protected, not just any type of work.

It will be interesting to see what happens next.


The threat of copyright claims to the web

An article in the Daily Mail today makes grim reading for every website author, if you pay attention and ignore the “eBook” angle:

eBook pirates cash in on Kindle sales boom as thousands turn to rogue sites for cheap downloads

… there are fears that their profits could be hit by a the sheer number of pirate eBooks available to download for free.

Creating pirate copies of published books is simple and can be done using a computer and a scanner in a relatively short period of time, or by converting the file format of a ‘bought’ ebook.

Freely available software which people can download to their home computers is able to convert just about any document file for reading on a Kindle or other ereader.

The Publishers Association issued 115,000 legal threats to websites to stop them offering free pirated books in 2011, a rise of 130 per cent on 2010.

Publishers are in talks with the Government and Google to find ways to combat the trade, which breaches their copyright.

They have asked Google to demote pirate websites to ensure they do not appear at the top of web searches for consumers looking to find eBooks. Pressure is also being put on internet service providers to shut down pirate websites.

The context put on this by the story is the piracy of just-published eBooks.  But the real story, for all of us, is the crackdown on copyright online. 

Remember that the publishers’ lobby has passed law after law that increases the term of copyright to absurd lengths — in the US it’s now about 95 years, in the EU it’s life of the author plus 70 years. 

What the publishers want, then, is the technology which will allow them to enforce all the worthless copyrights on long-out-of-print books, by allowing them to screw over websites that have put material from them online.  Amateur websites like myself will have very little defence against such claims.

The material that I have placed on the web is all out of copyright in the USA, to be the best of my knowledge.  I have always steered clear of doing anything liable to impact the profits of a publisher (although this is mainly because I actually do want those publishers to make money publishing Patristic texts, so that they publish more!)

But I confess all this makes me nervous.   The publishers are “in talks” with government, are they?  Well, website authors won’t be asked to those talks, of that we may be sure!

Google “lobbying hard” to change UK’s backward copyright law

An interesting snippet at political blog Guido Fawkes:

Back in July the Sunday Times’s FOIs revealed that senior Downing Street officials have had over twenty meetings with Google since the election. Accusations of preferential treatment were thrown around when Hilton, whose wife is a Google VP, did not declare all of his meetings with the group. This is especially murky given that Google are lobbying hard for changes to UK copyright law. Now they have poached a key cog in Cameroon machine. It’s all rather too cosy for Guido’s liking.

The political gossip is of no importance to us — but if Google has really decided to lobby against the UK’s oppressive and publisher-greed-driven copyright laws, then this is excellent news.  Prime Minister David Cameron has already acknowledged that Google could never have come into existence in the UK.  You don’t get much more business-unfriendly than that!

Here’s hoping that the blocking of Google Books to British people — a block which exists because of publishing industry threats, purely in case some squitty publisher somewhere is deprived of the chance to make a dishonest and tiny buck on a book published before 1923 — will get deep-sixed, and that our copyright law will be reformed in a sensible direction.

None of us object to the creators of original work being able to profit from their labours.  But with copyright of life-plus-70 years, we are in the absurd situation where material that was printed in the Austro-Hungarian empire in Latin in 1893 by a publisher that no longer exists in a country that no longer exists by someone dead 60 years cannot legitimately go online in the UK because of quite spurious copyright.  The dog in the manger is not a figure who should be protected by law.

(My apologies to anyone expecting emails from me today.  I have an appalling cold and will not be doing anything much.)

Some interesting thoughts on copyright and copyfraud

None of us object to those who create original works receiving payment for their labours.  But those of us who place stuff online — usually stuff long forgotten, where the creators have never received much, and are in any case long gone — find it a real problem.  The problem is that copyright has become too extensive, too all-encompassing, too much under the control of the publishing lobby and too little sanity-checked.

I  had an email today, which drew my attention to some remarkable posts.  There is a useful discussion of copyfraud here, the practice of claiming non-existent copyright.  The penalties for this piece of malevolence are negligible, and I have never heard of a prosecution for it.

The author also points out that major corporations are not only quite willing to borrow content from bloggers and others who contribute their efforts for free.  Those corporations go even further, and demand that the bloggers indemnify the corporation for its “risk”!  That is, a major corporation, stuffed to the gills with money and lawyers, transfers all the responsibility of compliance and all the financial penalties to those whom it uses.  Rightly is this called exploitation.

But which of us has the power to clean out this cesspit of vested interests?

Eusebius update

The book is still selling well, I think.  Amazon are fulfilling orders quite quickly, or so I hear, which says that they are holding stock and, pleasingly, selling them!

Carol Downer and her team, who did the translation of the Coptic fragments, are thinking about translating more of the Coptic catena.  I am encouraging them!

A rather interesting copyright issue has developed with the book.   For the Eclogue, I licensed the Greek text edited by Claudio Zamagni from Les Editions du Cerf, who publish the Sources Chretiennes series.

I myself do not believe that copyright was ever intended to apply to the raw Greek or Latin text of ancient authors, however edited.  The publishing industry has pushed for ever more copyright, and I am told that some German courts have even acknowledged such ownership, improbable as it seems.  But I wanted no trouble, and indeed the Cerf were very easy to deal with and asked a modest percentage (unlike Brepols, whose demands were so outrageous that I was forced to use a pre-critical text and simply note the difference — five words! — in the footnotes).

But today I learn from Dr. Zamagni that he never licensed his Greek text to the Cerf.  His contract with them left the ownership of that (if any) in his own hands.  He tells me that the Cerf have acknowledged this.  Naturally I have written back and asked his permission to use it, and I have also written to the Cerf and queried the facts.  After all, if they don’t have any claim on the copyright, I don’t owe them any money.

I’m sure the Cerf negotiated in good faith, and I will happily give them the free copies that were part of the deal.  But I suspect Dr. Z. is quite right about the legalities. 

But it all raises an interesting issue.  Surely every scholar should ensure that the raw Greek text of his labours should not become the supposed property of Bloggins and Co?  After all, a scholar may wish to do an editio minora, and should not have to pay to use his own work again!

None of us would deny a publisher the chance for a return on his work.  But this whole business of claiming copyright on the works of someone dead 16 centuries smells, whatever the legal trickery.  I suggest that scholars put an end to it by declining to include that text within their deals with publishers.  Apparatus? Fine by me.  Translations?  Ditto.  Commentaries?  Ditto.  Wherever real work is done, it is fine that a copyright exist.  But where someone is merely editing a corrupt text back to what the author wrote, the circulation of the raw text should NOT be obstructed by copyright.

Copyright law change: Google “could never have started their company in Britain” says PM

Apparently David Cameron, the UK prime minister, has grasped that the UK copyright law is rubbish.  I learn from this article:

“The founders of Google have said they could never have started their company in Britain,” the prime minister told his audience of thrusting internet entrepreneurs.

“The service they provide depends on taking a snapshot of all the content on the internet at any one time and they feel our copyright system is not as friendly to this sort of innovation as it is in the United States,” he added.

The announcement that followed, of a wholesale review of the UK’s intellectual property (IP) laws, was greeted with unalloyed delight at Google’s California HQ – and left the music industry, ravaged by web piracy, with that all too familiar sinking feeling.

The article is in the Guardian, the house paper of the left-wing establishment, so naturally harps on about the poor dear vested interests.  You need not bother to read the remainder of the article.

But it is interesting, therefore, that the PM at least grasps the problem.  UK copyright law cripples anyone wanting to contribute to the internet.  I have hopes, therefore, of an improvement.

Finnish translation of Tertullian’s Apologeticum uses an image from my site?

I had an email today from a chap in Finland which interested and amused me.

Here in Finland, Tertullian’s Apologeticum has just been published in Finnish  translation made by certain Lutheran emeritus bishop Juha Pihkala. The publisher is Kirjapaja, and it looks like they have used in the cover your photo of the codex Romanus S. Isidoriensis 1/29; compare for example the lights in the middle of the foto. You can see the cover here. The publisher’s own net site (http://www.kirjapaja.fi/) shows a different picture on the cover of the book, but this one (the Isidoriensis) is on the actual book, I’ve seen it.

My friend was concerned, I think, in case I felt robbed or something.  But of course I don’t.  I’m glad to see those images, which few ever seem to look at, getting wider circulation.  I went to quite a lot of trouble to get permission to photograph those half-dozen manuscripts; indeed the effort was too much after a while.  So I am glad that they are being used to spread the good word!

I get so much email that I don’t remember for certain, but I may have had an email from the people concerned asking about permission.  If I did, I would have referred them to the Abbey that owns the manuscript.  I hope they made a donation in that direction either way.  But for myself, I rejoice to see it.

It’s also very good news that a Finnish translation has appeared.

Speculative invoicing for copyright violation

Online piracy of games and DVDs is widespread, or so I gather.  I don’t myself play computer games and I don’t have a DVD player, and furthermore I’m not really the right generation.  But considering how music sharing worked in the 70’s and 80’s, I fully believe that it is widespread.  Notoriously peer-to-peer networking has been used for this purpose. 

Some of the lower forms of life in our society have seen an opportunity in this.  They get a firm of unscrupulous lawyers to start sending out letters intended to frighten ordinary people into paying up.  Not that the chancers actually know whether the recipient is guilty — the letters are (a) fishing for money, since most people pay rather than be dragged through the courts and (b) fishing for some real information about the recipient.  Often all the toerag has is an IP address, obtained from a complaisant ISP.  In consequence there have been some juicy tabloid stories, where the chancers accused frail pensioners with no internet access of using p2p and demanded money!

This link from beingthreatened.com contains details of how to respond if you receive a speculative invoice of this kind.  It makes interesting reading, and I recommend it.

Copyfraud once more

Today I received an email from a Romanian gentleman, asking about the translation of the lost passage by John Chrysostom from Oratio 2 adversus Judaeos, which I commissioned and then gave away recently.  He wanted to make a translation into Romanian.  So he asked what I paid the journal, in which Wendy Pradels published the Greek text with notes and German translation, for permission to have that English translation made.  I replied that I paid them nothing; there was no money in all this, and any claim to own a text by a man dead 16 centuries might be valid in some benighted lands but hardly in the USA. 

But it led me to muse on the likelihood that any academic publisher would try to sue out a claim to copyright in such a case.  It would hardly be sensible, in my opinion; why sue over what has no commercial value?  

While in bath, tho, my sense of humour took hold, and I took to wondering what questions one could ask in court.  Copyright only vests in “original, creative works.”  So…

“M’Lud, can the plaintiff tell us which specifically which words in the first line are NOT by John Chrysostom?”

“Would you give us a list of the differences between the text printed and the text composed in 400 AD by John Chrysostom?  If you cannot list the portions which are an original creative work by yourselves, on what possible grounds can you claim that any of it is by you?”

“Would you tell us what the commercial value of this item was, when you purchased — as you believed — the copyright from the scholarly author?  Did you pay any money at all for it?”

And so on.

I suspect, sadly, that courts are unimpressed by rhetoric  unless it involves clever points of law.   The layman who ventures into these waters does so at his peril, and indeed few of us ever do so unless cornered.  As Auberon Waugh remarked, from bitter experience, “He who goes to court places himself in the hands of a ring of grinning rascals who will all run up costs as fast as they can until somebody has to pay.” 

It’s probably easier and safer just to meet the plaintiff, shake hands with him, and then pitch him head first out of his office window, “accidental-like”.  Would the fines for so doing be at all likely to reach the charges that any law firm would demand?

The serious point behind all this is that the relentless march of commercial interests taking a yard where the law granted an inch has reached the point of absurdity.  Only the common sense exercised by publishers in the anglophone world is restraining them from foolishness of the sort feared by our Romanian friend; and outside that sunlit circle of generosity and mutual respect, there have been many examples of insane greed.  We need to push back. 

Genuine creative work should be protected by copyright, for the benefit of us all.  Attempts to own the work of the ancients, by one subterfuge or another, should not exist in a civilised land.