Pullman v. Casserly: The future of copyright

President of the Society of Authors Philip Pullman and Chief Executive of Creative Commons Cathy Casserly debate the future of copyright

16 Sep 2013
Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman


Copyright is simple to understand, except when those who want to get rid of it start complicating the explanation.

If I write a book, the right to make money from it belongs to me, and I make an agreement with a publisher who will print it and distribute it, collect the money it sells for, and pass on a small proportion to me. Anyone who wants to read it either has to buy it, in which case I get that small proportion of the money it sells for, or borrow it from a library, in which case the librarian counts the number of times that title is borrowed, passes on the details to the Public Lending Right administrators, and I’m paid a small sum for each borrowing.

Quite a number of people make money in the course of these processes. The editor, the jacket designer, the publicist, the printer, the library assistant, the bookshop manager, the PLR administrator, and others, all earn a living on the back of the fact that I and my fellow authors have written books that people want to read. And so do I, and that’s as it should be: we all contribute to the process of bringing my book to the public. Our rewards vary, of course: if my book sells a lot of copies I might make more money in a year than the bookshop manager, whereas if it sells very few I’ll make a great deal less. But that’s the risk I take, and on the whole this system is fair, and most authors see the justice of it.

What happens when someone buys my book and lends it to a friend? Well, I don’t get a penny for that, of course. Nor do I get a penny when they decide they would rather get rid of the book and give it to Oxfam, who sells it second-hand. But those transactions are pretty few, and I can put up with the anguish of making no money from them by thinking that, after all, they increase the number of my readers, who might buy my next book themselves.

Now suppose that someone sees there’s money to be made from books, and decides to print and distribute my book themselves, without any agreement with me, and keep all the money they get from it. They’d be fairly stupid to do that, because this is where the law of copyright comes in. They’re not allowed to do it. It’s against the law. That’s why it very rarely happens now, although it used to happen a great deal before international copyright agreements came into existence. Charles Dickens, for example, made no money at all from the vast sale of his books in the United States, and he was justly angered about it.

But nowadays that sort of thing doesn’t happen. Except … Someone invented the internet. And instead of going to the great difficulty and trouble of printing, binding, distributing, and so forth, in order to steal someone else’s literary or musical work, all the thief has to do is press a few keys, and they can make our work available to anyone in the world, and take all the money for themselves. This is most familiar to us in the field of music, of course. The ease and swiftness with which music can be acquired in the form of MP3 downloads is still astonishing even to those of us who have been building up our iTunes list for some time.

Some of us take the moral route, and pay for it, but many don’t. I had a long argument with a young man a year or two ago, a bright, decent student who was going to work in the field of the arts himself, who maintained that he had a right to download anything he wanted without paying for it, because it was there and he could do it. What about the money you’re stealing from the artist? I asked. Well, first of all it wasn’t stealing, he said, it was more like breathing the air that was available to everyone; and secondly, making music was something the musician would do anyway, as a hobby, and downloading it wouldn’t stop them from doing it; and thirdly, if they wanted to make money they should do as other musicians did, and perform live gigs, and go on tour, and sell merchandise at the door.

Then there’s YouTube. The pianist Krystian Zimerman was recently playing at a festival in Essen, Germany, when he spotted a member of the audience filming him on a phone. He stopped playing and left the stage, and  “explained on his return that he had lost recording contracts in the past because his playing of the works in question had already been uploaded onto the internet where people could see it for free,” according to BBC Music Magazine.

Books are slightly different, but the principle is the same. The internet only shows up in stark terms how like a cobweb the law of copyright is when confronted with the sheer force wielded by large corporations. As Richard Morrison wrote in BBC Music Magazine: “Google has been adept at fostering the impression that it is merely an altruistic and democratic ‘platform’ – a digital version of Speaker’s Corner – rather than a commercial publisher that is as accountable to the laws of copyright, libel and theft as any old-fashioned ‘print’ publisher would be. That Google has managed to sustain this illusion of being something like a charity or public service is astonishing, since it is a massively profitable global corporation with ways of minimising its tax bill that many would consider to be the opposite of public-spirited.” At the end of his article Morrison said: “If you quote me, I promise not to sue.”

The technical brilliance is so dazzling that people can’t see the moral squalor of what they’re doing. It is outrageous that anyone can steal an artist’s else’s work and get away with it. It is theft, as surely as reaching into someone’s pocket and taking their wallet is theft. Writers and musicians work in poverty and obscurity for years in order to bring their work to a pitch of skill and imaginative depth that gives delight to their audiences, and as soon as they achieve that, the possibility of making a living from it is taken away from them. There are some who are lucky enough to do well despite the theft and the piracy that goes on all around them; there are many more who are not. The principle is simple, and unaltered by technology, science, or magic: if we want to enjoy the work that someone does, we should pay for it.

Cathy Casserly

Cathy Casserly


The world is changing. Being a creator means something different today from what it meant a few years ago. And, let’s be honest, the change hasn’t been all good. The seemingly endless parade of newspapers shutting their doors or slashing their budgets is a stark reminder that it’s hard to make a living as a content creator. Today’s writers, photographers, and musicians must think very creatively about how to distribute and monetize their work, and the solutions they arrive at may look very different from the ways previous generations of artists made money.

In the past few weeks, there has been a lot of discussion about Spotify and similar music streaming services, and whether they pay artists fairly. The debate underscores the larger issue, that traditional distribution models are quickly becoming obsolete. The new generation of artists must be as cutting-edge with its business models as it is with its art.

According to world-renowned science fiction author Cory Doctorow, “My problem is not piracy, it’s obscurity.” Years ago, Cory decided that making it easy for people to download his books would do more for his career than trying to make it hard would. In other words, Cory doesn’t see people accessing and sharing his work online as a threat; he sees it as his livelihood. In a lot of ways, Cory represents the new possibilities for creators in the digital age. The creators who are thriving today are the ones who use Internet distribution most innovatively; in fact, the ones who are most generous with their work often reap the most reward.

But copyright was created in an analog age. By default, copyright closes the door on countless ways that people can share, build upon, and remix each other’s work, possibilities that were unimaginable when those laws were established. For Cory and artists like him, people sharing and creatively reusing their work literally translates into new fans and new revenue streams. That’s the problem with the all-or-nothing approach to copyright. The All Rights Reserved default doesn’t just restrict the kinds of reuse that eat into your sales; it also restricts the kinds of reuse that can help you build a following in the first place.

I work for Creative Commons, a global nonprofit organization that offers a set of open content licenses which lets creators take copyright into their own hands. By licensing her works under a Creative Commons license, a creator can turn All Rights Reserved into Some Rights Reserved, permitting others to reuse her works as long as they properly attribute her and, if she chooses, comply with one or two additional conditions. We’re not anti-copyright; in fact, our tools go hand-in-hand with copyright. Without the strength of copyright protection behind them, the conditions of a Creative Commons license would be unenforceable. Creative Commons licenses are written by expert copyright lawyers and have been upheld in court numerous times.

What’s more exciting than the licenses’ track record in court is their impact on the world. Writers, musicians, and filmmakers are using our tools to build new creative communities and redefine how artists share, collaborate, and monetize. Scientists and other researchers are publishing their papers and data openly, letting others carry their work forward more swiftly. Governments are starting to require open licensing on resources and research that they fund, ensuring that the public has full access to what it paid for. Educators are building textbooks and other educational resources that anyone can use and customize at no cost, helping to bring higher quality education to communities with limited resources.

Of course, open licensing alone isn’t what makes a creator successful. Cory is successful because he’s a gifted and hard-working writer. Amanda Palmer is famous thanks to her songwriting talent and charisma. Jonathan Worth wouldn’t be a sought-after photographer if he didn’t have a knack for taking perfect shots. These people aren’t successful because of Creative Commons. But they are successful, in part, because they found ways to let the power of the Internet carry their careers to new heights. And for each of them, that strategy included sharing their work widely under an open license.

It’s impossible to imagine how new technologies will redefine the next generation of creative professionals, but I believe that the most innovative creators won’t try to go back in time. Instead, they’ll use new technologies to their own benefit and that of their peers. They’ll carry technology forward rather than trying to fight it back. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Philip Pullman is the president of the Society of Authors @Soc_of_Authors

Cathy Casserly is chief executive of Creative Commons @cathycasserly

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This article is reproduced from the autumn 2013 edition of Index on Censorship magazine, which will be published on 1 Oct.

25 responses to “Pullman v. Casserly: The future of copyright”

  1. David Hallett says:

    To Oliver, Philip and everyone else who thinks that copyright reform is about the moral rights of the author: it’s pretty simple for Philip Pullman to both make a living and free himself from the problems of piracy.

    Next time he has a book in the works, go to Kickstarter or Indiegogo, and start a campaign to fund it. Include a sample chapter. Set a minimum contribution to get a copy of the ebook as soon as it’s ready, and higher levels for physical copies, special editions, signed copies, etc. Set the overall total to whatever he needs to make a living – he will probably get far more. Publicise far and wide (not hard for him). If the campaign does not meet its target, demand for the book is low and he would be better off not writing it, if his motivation is commercial. If it does meet its goal (highly likely), he pays someone to do the ebook formatting (allow for this in the campaign target), releases it as CC-BY-NC-ND or similar, and sells further ebooks for “pay what you want”. They can be legally copied, but when you can get the book for free from the author, what’s the incentive? Physical books can go in the stores as usual.

    The advantages of this approach are many. Authors get more of the money and very little risk. Books that nobody wants are less likely to get written. And piracy is not a threat to anyone’s living.

    The people who don’t like this model are publishers, whose role has shrunk notably, and who are no longer getting an income stream. So the next time you hear someone arguing against copyright reform, remember whose interests are actually being advanced. It’s the publishers, not the authors, even if some of the latter have been persuaded otherwise.

    If you’re asking “but what about authors who don’t have a big following”, I agree they have a problem. But they already have a problem in the current system. With the gatekeepers of publishing removed, they at least have more choices about how they find their audience.

    • Oliver says:

      Interesting ideas, and I hope it works for all authors. But it’s difficult to see that you’ll get anywhere near as much money this way as by the traditional route. The idea of “pay what you want” is a nice one, but who these days is likely to pay very much given that money is tight and there are so many things they could pay for?

      The advantage of the traditional approach is that if you don’t pay enough, you don’t get the good. If we move from a market economy to a donation economy, we are relying on people freely giving charitable contributions, which they don’t actually have to do. Is that really going to generate anywhere near as much money as before for authors? Even without a traditional publisher, it’s hard to believe that it would. With so many good causes to donate money to, paying for information you can get for free is not likely to be a viable business for many.

  2. Danko says:

    Philip Pullman published a book of Grimms’ fairy tales which he rewrote for the modern age. Are the stories only his so that the money goes only to him? Did the Grimms’ ever receive any money for their collecting of the stories? Did the people who told them the stories ever receive the money that Grimms would have received had this model been in existence back then?

    Who is the author of, e.g., Pullman’s favourite “The Juniper Tree”? He who rewrote it, brothers Grimm who recorded it and also partially rewrote it? Unknown teller in 19th century, or the yet more unknown author in who knows which age?

    Pullman thinks it right to rewrite other people’s stories in modern idiom and earn money, and emphasizes creative effort. Well, who is more creative: he who rewrote or the one who wrote (or composed orally in this case)? Who gets the money? Obviously the one in 21st century who has contract with the publishing company, and not the one who really made the story.

    Pullman has made a lot of hype moralizing against C.S. Lewis, but he’s become even worse moralizer. He doesn’t force onto us a kingdom of heaven, but instead keeps going on about money. The Republic of Heaven indeed.

    • Oliver says:

      The difference is that the Grimms and Lewis are dead, whereas Philip is alive and may have children to support. If a work is substantially original, the author has a right to charge for it.

      I know that it doesn’t sound very high-minded to make it about money, but that’s the world we live in. We all need money. A world where all creative work could be given for free is a world I want to live in, but trying to do that today is putting the cart before the horse. The machines we read ebooks on or play music on need electricity, and that electricity is a very scarce resource. Unfortunately, in today’s world we have to make a lot of things all about money because that’s the way we distribute our resources. To think that artists can ignore money is utopian. I hope that utopia will happen in the future, but for now money is important.

  3. Oliver says:

    In our present time, Philip is right. It would be nicer if we could enjoy art without having to pay for it. But we can’t have it for free until everything we need is free. In the future, I hope, technology will lead to a post-scarcity world where our food, energy, etc. will be so abundant we won’t need money anymore. And we could then spend all our time in creative pursuits without having to worry about paying any bills.

    But until that happens, artists have to live in the real, harsh, capitalist world. In that world they need enough for rent, for gas, for water, for travel. If they have families, they have a duty to try and make a lot of money to support them. To not pay them is wrong because they need money to survive. I wish it were otherwise, and maybe in our grandchildren’s lifetimes we will have gone beyond money and capitalism. But we haven’t yet, and for now we need to pay for what we consume.

    The Internet has given us a post-scarcity world when it comes to information. All the information we need is potentially available for free. That is extraordinary. Previously we were limited to paper books, to vinyl records, to video cassettes. Now there is no limit. But it doesn’t give us a post-scarcity world when it comes to material goods. They are still a scarce resource. And therefore we have to obey the rules of monetary exchange, and pay for the information we receive to support the creators.

    • David Hallett says:

      While this is undoubtedly true, what both you and Philip are missing is that acceptance of this argument is currently the main reason why anyone gets any money for books at all. Because most books are available for free, if you look hard enough. The question is whether you think it’s OK for authors to continue to rely on this moral injunction as a future business model. If not (and I don’t think it is), we need a new approach. Demanding ever more draconian punishments and intrusions into privacy is doing more harm than good.

      • Oliver says:

        I think Philip is right morally. That is, we have a moral duty to pay authors (and any other kind of artist) who doesn’t want their work to be free. Whether they can actually stop people getting it for free is another matter. It’s probably impossible.

        My view is only that maintaining an artificial scarcity of certain kinds of information is the ethical thing to do until everything else is no longer scarce. But I doubt that will happen in practice. You can’t really stop piracy if people want to do it, only try and convince them that it’s morally wrong.

  4. Pete Gas says:

    Piracy is not theft
    Theft removes the original
    Piracy makes a copy

    Duh ! OK some will maintain its more complex, however Pullmans position seems incredibly mean spirited, and illegalises the borrowing of books!

    Torrent-world is an amazing place, a while library of human knowledge, including things like ‘Abandonware’, games etc that are years and years old, no one would ever market them yet thier great to play – someteims the rights are tied up, or belong to a company that is SO not interested in Retro gaming… People like Pullman would seek to destroy this world, by overly mean projection of analogue laws into digital space

    Re-reading the piece, seems Pullman DOES tolerate book borrowing, “by thinking that, after all, they increase the number of my readers, who might buy my next book themselves.” Isnt the same thinking true for a DIGITAL copy ? This is my argument to the Record Industry too – Mp3’s aren’t as clear as the digital source, and I might LIKE to buy an album, IF you learened to make it something SPECIAL again – reemebereing what an Event a new Pink Floyd LP was like, mysterious artwork, special packaging – its called MARKETING people, the way to elevate your product above the rest…

    With books the difference is even more marked – I’m not a massive fan of Kindle’s etc, and I’d MUCH rather have a ‘hard’ copy of something I read a lot – overall I think books in the UK are a tad overpriced, especialy technical and computer related, and I dont actually WANT the makers of ‘real’ books to suffer unduly (just cut their margins ?) As the Genie IS out of the Bottle now … And I think we should look at the actuality of what following Pullmans philosophy actually MEANS – we now have Police raids for for running a Pirate Bay proxy (which is legal), and more and more legally dubious ‘Spectrials’

    (E.g. ‘Spectacle/Trial’, a ‘showtrial’ – The Pirate Bay had broken NO Swedish laws – “The court, however, never presented its corpus delicti (that is, it never attempted to prove that a crime was committed, but it succeeded in proving that someone was an accessory to that crime)”* – creating more and more Martyrs and heroes (at least in many peoples perception) and creating a new deep Hatred of corporate media – I realy think Mr Pullman should think about WHO he’s defending, and the end results of his chasing ‘just rewards’ for his literary skills here

    The world is a different place now, and thanks to the crackdown, the sweish Pirate Party are now a major Political Force – I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say SURE I’m going to try to goet some learning time in on Software Pacages that cost 4-figures, to keep my skills up to date – right now, after our Governmetns Welfare Reforms, the tech work I’m getting just about keeps me and my cat fed – Piracy may be bad for established creators, but it DOES give the little guy and girl a chance to SEE whats at the top table

    (In the case of software, the pirate could be buggy, even carry trojan or virus, and MUCH nicer to be in a prefessional enviroment with manufacture supported legit software, but it DOES mean we have a chance to actually PLAY with the stuff)

    Elites and Business Interests have always frowned on new enabling technology – the ones who’v thrived, innovated, are usually those who’ve embraced the new picture ‘ok THIS is the map now’, rather than longing for the protected markets of yesteryear

    Just to hark on about the Pirate Bay trial, which created two National Heroes..

    “it was discovered that the main police investigator in the preliminary investigation had started working for one of the plaintiffs, Warner Brothers, before the date of the indictment. Sunde’s lawyer Peter Althin questioned the neutrality and reliability of the preliminary investigation in the event”*

    “Only days before the trial began, one of the three appointed lay judges was discovered to be a member of a composers’ association that among others works on protecting copyright.[94] After discussing with judge Tomas Norström (judge) the problem the membership could pose to the trial, the composer recused himself … In the aftermath of the trial, presiding judge Tomas Norström, the same judge that ordered the 2006 raid on The Pirate Bay’s servers, came under scrutiny after allegations of bias. Sveriges Radio P3 News organized an investigation that found on April 23 that Norström had several engagements with organisations interested in intellectual property issues. Peter Danowsky, Monique Wadsted and Henrik Pontén from the prosecution side are also members of one of the organisations, the Swedish Copyright Association (SFU)”…”Norström however also sits in the board of the Swedish Association for the Protection of Industrial Property,[97] which along with the SFU are the Swedish branches of International Association for the Protection of Industrial Property (AIPPI) and Association littéraire et artistique internationale (ALAI) … Several legal experts have commented that the judge should not have taken the case because of the potential conflict of interest or should at least have mentioned it in the beginning of the trial, and that there are grounds for a retrial”*

    (Despite the glaring irregularities, the retrial was refused in 2012, a number of the participants in THAT decision ALSO having strong corporate media ties) *Wikipedia ‘Pirate Bay Trial’}

    “The problem here is that we’re allowing this dying industry to dictate the terms of our democracy. We allow them to dictate new laws (ACTA, SOPA, PIPA, IPRED, IPRED2, TPP, TRIPS, to name a few recent ones) that forbid evolution…” – Peter Sunde – Pirate Bay Defendant

    And a challenge to Mr Pullman – supposing you got everything you seem to want, further expansion of numerous fuzzy ill-defined laws, police raids, more arrests for the contents of ones hard drive – supposing you got ALL that, and STILL your books didnt sell as well as you would like?

    Is the erosion of so many of our Civil Liberties a fair price to pay, to keep (some) creators, and Big Business happy ? When I read Peter Sundes statement, after being sentened to a year in Prison – “Even if I had any money I would rather burn everything I own and not even give them the ashes… ” I sure know which side *I’m* on in this debate

    Pullmans arguments might sound superficially ‘reasonable’, its easy to sympathise with people lower in the Industry pecking order, just trying to earn a living – but the ‘Market Protection’ he seeks comes with a terrible, terrible price, which now includes Government-mandated filtering of the UK internet connection (try typing , and watch the ‘blocked’ message) – again, are these prices we REALLY wish to pay? Now the State has a Precedent to filter our internet (imagine ‘superinjuctions’ expanded to cyberspace) and yet the Pirate Bay is STILL going strong – and even if taken down there are HUNDREDS of lesser known Torrent Trackers and Search engines out there – How much of our liberty SHOULD we sacrifice too keep our ‘creators’ (the established ones, that flourish via Book and Record companies) happy ?

    Personally I have a few pieces of ‘Intellectual Property’ – and though I’d be a bit miffed to see others using them in ways I’d consider unauthorised’, I don’t think its worth putting people I’ve never met in prison for (and cuting out further swathes of UK citizens legal rights)- some of my creations are ‘anaogue’, items I make with my hands – if my’Digital’ creations escape me and get on line, well Ho-Hum, at least it gets my name out there

    Philosophically, human beings can either spend thier time in acts of blame or acts of creation – I have an ex who used me badly, took a heap of my money, that when work is lean even feeding the CAT is a problem. Do I waste time thinking of prosecution for Fraud etc, or do I create some interesting new openings, with possible unknowable profits?
    I like the sound of the latter

    Again, I think I know what side *I’m* on – make your choice people, and rememer your Chidren will have to live with the laws we let happen


    PS I notice most of the ‘philosophical’ points have been covered in great detail – but remember we’re talking about putting real people in jail here…

  5. David Hallett says:

    The problem with Phillip Pullman’s view is not that it is wrong, but that it is orthogonal to the problem. Like most of those who comment on either side of these issues, he focuses on the question of moral conduct. Wrath of God misunderstands the issue in the same way (do you value what you consume?). None of these arguments will change a thing, any more than Knut could hold back the tide.

    The problem is simply this: that copyright was developed mostly to support two business models that support the creative worker. One, to make money by controlling rights to reuse (e.g. stock photographers). Second, to make it by restricting access to original works to those who are willing to pay (authors, most musicians). In an age when works can be copied almost infinitely and distributed at astonishing speed at near-zero cost, the first model remains valid (albeit with challenges), but the second is fundamentally broken.

    Would it were not so. I’m a writer, editor, musician and photographer and have plenty of reasons to want to keep the old model alive. But it is dead. Unfortunately, rather like Python’s Parrot, commercial interests are unwilling to accept that it is so, and beseech governments to do something, anything, to revive it. This is doing significant harm in the world, and left unchecked has the potential to precipitate global catastrophe (Cory Doctorow can tell you why and how). I hope intelligent thinkers such as Mr Pullman will eventually realise that what the world needs are new business models, and a way to transition to them smoothly. We may think that the horse was a much more virtuous mode of transport than the care, and maybe it was, but it’s too late now.

  6. Martha says:

    Dear Cathy: No question Cory Doctorow is an advocate for a more intelligent copyright policy. At SIGGRAPH 2011 here in Vancouver he also also gave one of the most eloquent arguments in favour of blanket licensing I have heard. The reality is surely more nuanced than Mr Pullman would have us believe. But Cathy a truly “creative” commons would be one that itself did not take a view of open that obscures the fact that digital platforms that masquerade as “free” are anything but. Many of our European free culture counterparts appear to understand what many do not: that film, video, music, and art require infrastructure to be “monetized”. In our zeal to be ever present (thank you Douglas Rushkoff) I fear we will lose our capacity to appreciate the works of the disappearing creators whose work has no market for whom the existing digital platforms have no time.

  7. […] Index on Censorship just published a dialogue on the future of copyright between Creative Commons CEO Cathy Casserly and…. Regardless of which side you take in this argument, its an interesting […]

  8. Dave Nelson says:

    Authors not getting paid for their works is nothing new… ask Charles Dickons.

    IMO the main problem w/ current Copyright Law is it leans far too far in favor of Corporate interests and ignores the rights of the public.

    Is there ANY reason for the term of Copyright to be longer than that of a Patent? I don’t think so. IP is IP.

    60 years plus the lifetime of the author is an outrage. Give creators 14 years with an option to request a second 14 year term. 28 years of privilege is enough. 20 Years total for any work for hire.

  9. John Mitchell says:

    Pullman undermines the strength of his argument with a totally false legal premise: “If I write a book, the right to make money from it belongs to me.” I am not aware of any copyright regime where the copyright includes the “exclusive right to make money”. (Were that true, I suspect we would all be spewing out works of authorship at such a horrid frenzy that the really good stuff would be buried under very profitable drivel.)

    His notion that library lending produces revenue is false in the U.S.A., where Sections 109 and 202 of the Copyright Act grant the owner of the lawfully made copy the right to redistribute it without the consent of the copyright owner. A library could obtain all of its books by gift and never pay a penny in royalties.

    Pullman correctly gives a nod to the many people who profit from bringing books to market and do not pay the copyright owner. If he lifts his gaze beyond the right to make money, he would see, on the one hand, that millions of people are first turned on to their favorite author without having paid – the book loaned or given to them, the video game played at a friend’s house, the song heard over the radio. And, billions of authors of trillions of works prefer that the works be widely accessed, reproduced and distributed with no expectation of compensation. (Just like so many commmentors here.) The Creative Commins approach allows authors a way around the gross censorship bias in the Copyright Act (the fear that if I reproduce something I may get sued, even though the author would love for me to do so but the law presumes “all rights reserved”), by helping authors announce allowed uses.

  10. Thanks to both Philip and Cathy for framing some initial parameters of this debate. As e-books become the new MP3’s and the Digital Exploitation Economy moves it’s ravenous maw from music to The Printed Word, I look forward to the Freetards coming on here to suggest that write can, could, indeed should, abandon their ‘sheds’ to go on endless dispiriting lecture toures with Hay International Inc, selling t-shirts after their gigs like hapless modern musicians. Or I guess they could bet their works down to bite-sized Twitter snippets which can easily be sold and bundled for t.v advertisements.

    Forget time for research, drafts, reading the legacy: get your arses out their on the tour bus and work it.

    I love ‘remix’ culture but it’s now clear that, in music, there’s only going to be a new Kate Bush if they have a trust fund. Bands, like boxing, used to be a route out of the ghetto-estate, now only public school educated folk seem to bother as they are primed with an entitlement agenda and a fallback resource base that the “Common People” are unlikely to have. Jarvis Cocker and the rest of Pulp spent decades in obscurity before payday when they headlined Glastonbury, now they’ be conscripted to zero-hours internships with media companies rather than be given the ‘privilege’ of seeding their entrepreneurial dreams.

    I’d direct anyone who’s seriously interested in grappling with all this to a website called where the gifted musician / wonk / entrepreneur / polymath musician David Lowery who hosts what Mrs Merton would describe as a “heated debate” around a riff of “Artists For An Ethical and Sustainable Internet #StopArtistExploitation ”

    Chris Ruen’s “Freeloading. How our insatiable hunger for free content is starves creativity” also is on my reading list. It’s recommended by David Byrne, so no further endorsement is required.

    The ‘insatiable hunger for free content’ is intriguing in that people I know have hard drives full of music, porn and literature that they’ve never listened to, tossed off to or read. I believe it’s called ‘hamstering’ whereby one just accumulates nuts/nuggets of data like the online equivalent of a elderly shut-in succumbing to dementia. Now that “information is free”, it’s also lost it’s meaning and is just part of the general tsunami of nonsense engulfing post-capitalism. The actual quote, of course, was “On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.”

    Damian Thompson’s “The Fix” on the hedonic treadmill dopamine reward of modern content and technology also pushes hot buttons.

    George Michael famously went into battle against the Sony Corporation claiming that his contract to them was on terms that rendered his artistic works mere software to loss-lead, marketise their hardware. And Prince got very upset too. Now, he refuses to have anything to do with ‘free shit’ content on the web, as does Jerry Sadowitz, the Outsider comedian.

    Music concerts now seem just to be click-bait for people to impress their ‘friends’ on social media, as does the whole Big Read/Library Thing “social media for serious Hampstead types” platform, which renders content just an accessory of cool. No one has time to read, watch or listen to all this stuff. The gatekeepers and taste-makers are under seige and expected to work for free, so it’s all just babble/Babel. Anyone sensible is now just switching off. I plan to once I’ve concluded my brief, ironic, online experiments.

    Amanda Palmer’s Kickstarter is not a useful comparitor as, like Radiohead, she was seeded by corporate largesse during the Dresden Dolls era. Morrissey is on strike about this stuff, and others, like me, have better things to do with what remains of life than jump through hoops like a tormented cirucs animal to gain an Audience. Posthumous is fine by me, if anything survives Collapse and Singularities, that is.

    As Leonard Cohen sang in 1992 before theinternet kicked off and he sold his soul for the corporate rock tour syndrome: “Things are going to slide, slide in all directions, won’t be nothing, nothing you can measure anymore, the blizzard, the blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold and it has overturned the order of the soul”. That’s exactly what’s happened with an unholy convergence of crises in techology, commerce and, as Philip and David Lowery rightly state: ethics.

    We now know, after Snowden, that these ‘groovy’ tech/content companies with their desk-based massages and dress-down Friday cultures are just like any other hierarchical, militaristic corporate profit-seeking machine. All that’s been moderated is the mood music for a new USP.

    We had competing formats in ether music such as MP3, AAC, WMA, all of which were in conflict with different hardware platforms until MP3 won and the rest gave up. The same is now happening in e:pub, where corporations like Amazon seek to lock in writers, readers and chain them to a device sold at a loss so that future content charges can be ramped up. The same model happens with your printers: it’s cheap until you need a new cartridge. If you want interoperability with your e-library, you have to go through an infernal dance of apps, devices and technical education so that you can read your Kindle and Nook formatted materials on an app on your sexy Apple i-device. Most people just destroy their brains trying to figure it out and stop reading.

    The death of reading: the very nature of these insidious technologies is having dramatic effects on attention span, focus and concentration so that most people speed-read books (or just reviews) so they can do that dinner party impressive chimp thing. Reading on tubes whilst being blasted by music is not conducive to understanding. I doubt Blake or Dickens would have tuned out the symphony of the streets to immerse themselves in the latest Coldplay opus whilst reading the equivalent deathless hipster book.

    I live near Hay. It’s now utterly vile, an insane orgy of obligatory self-promotion, forced anecdotes, and just another part of the whole festival malarkey where content is aggregated cheaply for consumers who, largely, aren’t even there for the content, just to buzz and vibe wiv their mt8s’s. And that applies to central bankers like Mark Carney “chillaxing” at Wilderness as it does to various Norman Coaltion whores yakking incessantly over champagne and canapes at Hay: “The Glastonbury Of The Mind”.
    Hay is now a transnational event such that I doubt there’s anywhere in the world you can go without risking bumping into a franchise. Of course, no one sensible travels anymore, just as no-one sensible reads any of the avalanche of detritious and drivel that the click-bait media try to sell to lure in punters on behalf of their advertising sponsors.

    Hey, I’m losing focus and the ADD/OCD thing is trying to kick in, so I ‘ll conclude two links that I find nourishing on this topic.
    “The Tech Intellectuals. The good, bad, and ugly among our new breed of cyber-critics, and the economic imperatives that drive them.” by Henry Farrell

    Most downloaded material is what is popular content produced by the largest corporations and their ‘stars’. Most people are delusional ‘fans’ and have cultic relationship to Art: they are not part of an Audience. Oscar arriving in America is not the same as some President in a helicopter landing at Hay to flog a revisionist ghost-written auto-hagiography. Most people are obsessed with Herd Culture, especially those who imagine they are niche, elite culture vultures. There is a limit to the amount of paid employment which the froth of capitalism can support once the basics of food, energy and wars are funded. “Modern Life Is Rubbish” as Damon Albarn famously noted.

    Really, I’m just another thicko “BrummieBoy” so I’ll leave this debate now and let the experts get on with it. Here’s someone who’s really got on top of it all:

    “Jonathan Franzen: what’s wrong with the modern world. While we are busy tweeting, texting and spending, the world is drifting towards disaster, believes Jonathan Franzen, whose despair at our insatiable technoconsumerism echoes the apocalyptic essays of the satirist Karl Kraus – ‘the Great Hater’ Amazon model favours yakkers and braggers, says Jonathan Franzen”

    Lots of links, but The Irish Independent tried to monetize links by charging folk for using them. It’s getting desperate out there. I’m looking forward to switching off The Nonsense Machine that is The Interwebz and returning to sanity.

    With every good wish.

    Yours, in Jubilo! and in flagrante delicto..

  11. robert steele says:

    Comparing BitTorrent to lending a book or DVD to a friend is like comparing a butter knife to a fleet of bulldozers.

  12. jameshogg says:

    I cannot help but notice that Phillip’s rhetoric around protecting the rights of creators cannot go as far as protecting the life, liberty and property of derivative artists.

    There are many jobs that can be created from the release of long-protected works into the public domain. But they cannot, because the slippery slope of “you can never have too much copyright” has gone on for far too long. Even Disney sacrificed its profit-making from derivative works of the past in order to preserve control of what it had then. Understand that psychology, and you will understand a lot about this argument. These fruits of labour that derivative artists deserve are not just theirs, but the audience’s who wish to hear the great re-telling of stories the artists have to offer. Do we on the abolitionist side of the house get no credit for saying this?

    If you really want to interpret the principles of John Locke correctly, you have to realise that holding somebody’s right to property prisoner to somebody else’s is simply bound to lead to irony and hypocrisy of the highest order. If you want to solve the “free-rider problem”, there is a powerful way I will soon mention.

    Such a monopolistic protection of original artists alone (let me stress, I do not mean “monopolistic” as in a monopoly over “books” as a whole, rather a monopoly over “Star Wars” if you are George Lucas or now Disney) would be a position that necessarily, if held consistently, requires the shutting down of websites like deviantArt, and the branding of all the hard-working young artists of that site as thieving pirates. I have issued this challenge to those who are genuinely pro-copyright and have never got a satisfactory answer. Do you or do you not wish this website to be shut down? It makes a lot of money through advertising, merchandise, secondary sales of non-infringing prints, events, subscriptions, and all of it helped by the broad-daylight infringement of its users that flood the front page with copyrighted characters from other creations. Yet, people rarely mention, or even paid attention to the fact, that it IS indeed an infringing website.

    But if you do say yes to this challenge and insist it must be shut down, I would admire you for being consistent. And brave. But you must then face up to the necessarily Luddite mentality of your philosophy. And you definitely must consider if it consists of all the symptoms of a futile utopia. Sorry… I really should not have to say “futile” utopia as there is no other kind of utopia.

    How then, if copyright must be done away with, do you solve the dreaded free-rider problem? Putting aside the contradictions put by the pro-side that pirates would somehow still be filthy-rich in an unsustainable tragedy of the commons, and that the lending of content between multiple parties is still a free-rider problem that fights back against high prices (by the way I do not care how “little” Phillip thinks this supposedly happens: a penny stolen from a safe is still theft none-the-less, and he shouldn’t duck the paradox so easily, as well as the likewise paradox with fair-use), there is one powerful Occam’s Razor solution to this that utterly and completely strikes down the pro-copyright side and protects the life, liberty and property of both original artists AND derivative artists.

    How do you stop the quasi-property doublethink? How do you stop a movement that claims to be the exception to the rule that Congress shall make no law restricting the expression of opinions (EXPRESSION of, not ideas of)? How do you stop the sacrifice of one person’s property for another? How do you stop the Luddite backlash from the corporations against thriving communications technology? How do you stop the spawning of illegal monopolies as a result of LEGAL monopolies in the form of the Chinese government and Kim Dotcom in pure Al Capone form, and take all their power away from them? (Be warned, by the way. Kim Dotcom does not believe in copyright abolition for the very same reason that the drug cartels would lobby to keep the war on drugs going if they could – untaxed, and unregulated) How do you stop middlemen praying on vulnerable artists by taking their buck of power away from them and sit on it doing little else, and instead force them to act out what should be their true roles as advertisers – nothing more and nothing less?

    There is a way. And that’s the crowdfunding revolution. I do not use the expression “Occam’s Razor” lightly. I will happily respond to any challenge you throw at me with regards to this. I come from a background where argument and self-reflection are virtues. Rest assured that all the requirements of property are best met most morally with this philosophy.

    Crowdfunding has been wrongly described all across the board – it is not a “charity system”, it is not a “shareholding system” – no. What it is is an assurance contract. The very thing that directly challenges the free-rider problem, along with tickets, subscriptions, pre-orders, all of which has had plenty of evidence to show that they have been working for a very long time (apparently that last one has worked out well for Rockstar – recuperating their GTAV production costs on pre-orders ALONE, while making one of the most expensive video games ever made). Crowdfunding is just the natural extension – the peak of this sustainable economic backbone – and considering how well it has been doing while NOT being the mainstream platform for funding creativity, imagine how powerful it can get when it kicks copyright out of the picture completely.

    Assurance contracts would have meant that the PIRATES would have crossed the Atlantic to meet Dickens and not the other way around. The one thing they could not take from him was his ability to write. Mozart came staggeringly close to finding out this very answer, as a matter of fact. The only thing they were missing was the ability to communicate their assurance contract business on a mass scale. To say that the “pirate-prone internet” would have been detrimental to them is frivolous. They would have harnessed IndieGoGo and Kickstarter in a heartbeat, and every bleeding-heart author and musician on the planet would have contributed a fair bit to their pots.

    Now there are some good things associated with copyright which actually have nothing to do with copyright which I am happy to embrace. Protection against plagiarism as a matter of principle in relation to defamation and libel. The right of an artist to put a signature on “official” copies of his work in the form of a trademark. In fact, these two very things will give a secondary wave of economic power on par with the fashion industry, cooking industry and magician industry which do not depend on intellectual property protection yet thrive stably and strongly.

    Also, the question of having a software company release the source code to its programs as a matter of trade-description may be blurry in regards to the right of the company to keep a trade secret, but copyright would have no role in either side of that argument in any case.

    Do not think that all abolitionists are in any way naive. I do hate the cliche arguments that those on my side of the spectrum give: “but the labels are too rich!”, “it’s not THEFT it’s infrigement!”, “everyone else is doing it!”, “these prices are stupid, anyway!”. Please. I have no time for shallow mantras. I am willing to dig deep into the heart of this issue, so do not mistake me for being naive.

    • AndrewGMooney says:

      jameshogg: amazing comment/thesis. You have really thrown down the gauntlet. I wish I had time and dexterity of expression to really let rip. But I don’t, so here’s a quick blast response and I’ll have to leave it there.

      As Web 3.0 continues, devaintArt and 4chan will, like YouTube, move to a commercial model if they are to continue, or others will appropriate their memeplex and monetise their genius innovations and/or they will collapse under bandwith constraints/server costs once Herd Culture gets up to speed with where the real action is. Look at ICanHazCheezburger. How huge will that brand be in a generation? LOL-cats aren’t going away.

      The technology exists for micro-crediting and micro-payments of sources of remix culture, and it’s powerful corporations, not indidual remixers, who are seeking to strip content of protection through ‘orphan works’ type legislation. There’s nothing to stop a derivative work on YouTube or anywhere else that references an original work from directing a micro-amount of any revenue from clicks and advertising sponsors, etc. Ditto remixes of literay works. However, that would put the needs of creators of content above that of corporations and their advertising sponsors/funders.

      Also, nothing can negate the fundamental ethical right of an artist to have some control over how their work is presented and in what context. Lyrical poetry from popular music has been appropriated by click-bait ad-funded sites who are doing this, not to ‘liberate lyrics’ for the masses, but to drive traffic to advertisers who pay them their profits. The artists who wrote the lyrics get nothing.

      Will other sites be allowed to ‘share’ an entire ouevre in similar fashion as superfast broadband makes it possible to download the entire works of an author in a second or so? Are there data-input farms in Dhaka being set up to type in this year’s Booker Prize contenders for to release to the Reader, bypassing the Author? Making a recorded music artefact for commercial gain is now military operation to stop it leaking on the internet. Ditto literary projects like Morrissey’s auto-hagiography. Spooks outside the USuk now use typewriters to retain control and privacy from ‘remix culture’. You couldn’t make it up!

      There’s a huge distance between Disney, The Beatles and Cliff Richard seeking to protect capital formation and/or pension funds with the immediate and absolute ethical and financial abuse that occurs when some smart-arse leaks a work by Gaga, Kanye or Madonna, whether for a brown envelope of cash, or because they have a greivance from working or reviewing/marketing the product.

      Also, how will historically important work be curated and archived without either capitalist profit or public funding? Should all art galleries be free at all times, for evermore? What about those works outside the obvious Shakespeare/Proms /’proper literature’ mindset? How will they be preserved for Posterity? Was Bowie right in saying the only future for recorded music was as a public utility? Does the same apply to literature?

      The music and publishing industries are trying to replicate their analogue models online through Spotify, so it’s not clear that artists will benefit in anyway from tighter copyrights, unless they negotiated to be both originator and rights owner of their works. David Lowery has covered all this:

      And the tragedy of Aaron Schwartz attempts to ‘liberate research libraries’ is indicative of the labyrinth of ethical dilemmas that await anyone trying to grapple with all this. David Byrne’s ruminations are especially interesting and cogent:
      Philip Pullman is, effectively, in the same psychic space that Lars Ulrich was when Napster destroyed the CD as a container and business plan/profitability model. Like those of recorded music, the behemoths of publishing are probably doomed:

      The ‘book’ as a content container is, like the CD, being destroyed. Either capitalism is based on the rule of law and the rule of contract or it isn’t. If artists wish to operate outside of that framework, they are entitled to, but not at the expense of pirating a living from others, whether in music, literature or adult entertainment.

      Problems can be solved, dilemmas can only be experienced and lived through. Copyright ‘going forward’ is a dilemma, not a problem. There is no solution in law, only in ethics, unless the content industries join forces with the NSA/GCHQ to police it all. And it wouldn’t surprise me if they’ve not already lobbied for those rights covertly.

      I am a dancer, singer, lyricist, musician. I am not an intellectual and wouldn’t waste the subscription fee to Grammarly to remedy that fact. I have avoided publishing a single thing since 1976, when I became aware of just how delusional ‘punk’ friends were in thinking they were rebelling against The Man. Nothing has changed, yet everything has changed. I’d rather work on the fruit and veg in Morrissons than spend 18 hours a day on a tour bus selling music as a loss-leader for a t-shirt franchise. Or “building an online presence” to drive eyeballs to ‘free shit’ so I might, possibly, get a pay cheque from merchandising.

      If music, film and porn are now ‘uneconomic’ activities because of technological advance, and if the Law of Contract cannot find a way to balance the rights and responsibilities of content creators and remixers, then we face a downward spiral where new talent is unable to make a living from art and it become the exclusive hobby of the Trustafarian nouveaux-aristocratic elite. Or from the patronage of Popes, Royalty and Opera-Loving Gatekeepers. As a working class Peaky Blinder BrummieBoy, such a future appals me.

      There’s many reasons beyond Camille Paglia’s analysis why Madonna rose to the very pinnacle of postmodern culture. She’s watching and pondering all this. And engaging with the debate both as a capitalist entrepreneur and as a radical innovative cultural change agent:

      I don’t apologise for typos, grammar, this is peripheral to me. My dance class begins in an hour and I could care less if the whole rotten edifice of the post-capitalist bread and circus entertainment/entraiment matrix collapses into ruin in the final days of Empire. Something new will emerge from the ashes. Or, maybe: A welcome period of silence. Over and out.

      • anon says:

        Also, nothing can negate the fundamental ethical right of an artist to have some control over how their work is presented and in what context.

        I’m afraid that I must take issue with the idea that authors have any such ‘fundamental ethical right.’

        A right to free speech is inherent in everyone, and so authors certainly should have absolute control over how they themselves present their works. But a right to free speech encompasses a right to repeat verbatim what another person has already said. To prevent someone from copying a work requires either — convincing that person not to do it, whether out of the kindness of their hearts, or a consequence of cold utilitarianism because they’d be better off biding their time — or it requires outright censorship, backed up with the power of the state to do violence. There’s no other way.

        I don’t see how there’s a ‘fundamental ethical right’ to control the speech of others, particularly for no better reason than merely because you said it first. (On the other hand, there’s actually a very good utilitarian argument)

        Something new will emerge from the ashes.

        This, however, I agree with. Copyright is an incentive to create and publish works which, but for copyright, would not have been created and published. But it is not the only incentive, and it is not always the strongest incentive, and it may at times even function as a disincentive (to authors making derivative works).

        There are natural incentives too, and seeing as how there were works created prior to the invention of authorial copyright in England in 1710 (and quite a bit later elsewhere in the world), we will be okay even if copyright collapses entirely. Maybe the situation will not be ideal, but we’ll be okay.

        (And before you point to the vast increase in the number of works since 1710 as proof of the worth of copyright, I’d ask you to please subtract whatever effect was caused by unrelated factors, such improved technologies for making blank media, for printing on it, and for distributing it; increased literacy rates; increased leisure time; better artificial lighting; and so on. Light bulbs and literacy are not going to vanish if copyright is abolished or reformed downward.)

  13. wrathofgod says:

    Pay for what you consume; or choose to consume only what is not monetised.

    For more articulation of what’s wrong with the Selfishness Model, please read Michael Rosen here commenting on what’s reasonable etiquette.

    The ‘but Cory Doctorow gives things away’ argument only works if you want to read Cory Doctorow.

    You might also want to watch Jaron Lanier (who’s a wise and digitally sound thinker) talking about the flaw in those ‘everything should be free’ viewpoints:

  14. Mary Thomson says:

    I have some sympathy with Pullman on this issue. I’d have more if copyright terms had not been extended to unreasonable lengths, far beyond the lifetime of the original creator.

  15. Derek Massey says:

    I don’t agree with any of the comments so far. But Torquils comments are well written and quite to the point. i will borrow….Now shared with my Facebook friends with attribution to me. My… but aren’t I the best writer. Torquil? Who?

  16. Dom Collier says:

    “I have stolen ideas from every book I have ever read… …if this story contains any honey, it is entirely because of the quality if the nectar I found in the work of better writers” – Philip Pullman, Acknowledgements, p.549, The Amber Spyglass. “…you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.” – Rousseau (it says here, Creative Commons, INNIT:! “Things change, hairstyles change”, one man’s poison is another man’s fish, “total coverage, free lunch, final wisdom…” “Was Hamlet mad? Was Trellis mad? It is extremely hard to say. Was he a victim of hard-to-explain hallucinations? Nobody knows. Even experts do not agree on these vital points. Professor Unternehmer, the eminent German neurologist, points to Claudius as a lunatic but allows Trellis an inverted sow neurosis wherein the farrow eat their dam”. Homer – “Homer” – likely didn’t collect fees for the Iliad, did he now? “– do I have your attention? Interest — are you interested? I know you are because it’s fuck or walk. You close or you hit the bricks!” Times change, and the old copyright model is changing too. Kiss it goodbye, rich writers and day dreamers, because it’s over. “Heard it and the news of ten/Sli g your bundel haul agen/Haul agen and hump your load/Every bodys on the road” – Hoban, Riddley Walker, “a’ight”.

  17. Lamped says:

    Pullman says: “It is outrageous that anyone can steal an artist’s else’s work and get away with it. It is theft, as surely as reaching into someone’s pocket and taking their wallet is theft.”

    Except that it is not theft, so not “surely” at all. Theft is an offense defined in law, and downloading or even sharing protected content online doesn’t come under that definition.

    Theft requires the intention to permanently remove something tangible from the victim by the perpetrator, and digital *copying* doesn’t do that. The original copy is still there.

    The person sharing the content may be guilty of copyright infringement, however. But that is not theft.

    Despite the repeated errors, his argument is not entirely invalid.

    If creators are being deprived of anything as a result of file sharing, it is a potential opportunity for the creator to transact with a customer and generate income. But that potential would only become actuality if the person doing the downloading would have made a purchase even if the opportunity to grab a digital copy wasn’t there. I’m sure that many who download content without paying do so to avoid paying for something, but I don’t think it’s safe to assume that that will always have been the case.

    One should also take into account the possibility that the person downloading something might like it enough to go and purchase it later on. Personally, in the past decade I have spent tens of thousands of pounds on music that I first heard as mp3 downloaded using file sharing software. I realise that I may be an exception in that sense, as much as the student who felt he had the right to download anything without paying merely because he could.

    There are valid arguments to be made from the point of view of creators and others in the distribution chain. It doesn’t help when false accusations are part of the argument.

  18. Wrath of God says:

    Mr Macneil’s comment is predictably snide and selfish. Mr Pullman acknowledges in his piece that such small-scale lending between friends does not count as exploitation, not in the way that an intermediary service providing the material on a greater scale, a pirate lender, would do.

    The argument simply comes down to this: do you value what you consume? If you value a thing enough to covet it, consider the effort put into making such a covetable thing, and reward its creator. If you simply pick a wallet off the ground and keep it, you’re depriving its owner of a means to eat and continue to create the things you want.

  19. Torquil Macneil says:

    ” It is outrageous that anyone can steal an artist’s else’s work and get away with it. It is theft, as surely as reaching into someone’s pocket and taking their wallet is theft.”

    Well then, reading a friend’s copy of a book, or watching a DVD at a friend’s house is theft as well, just as surely as reaching into their wallet etc, etc. But I bet Mr Pullman has done that many times (he may even do it from time to time today) and does not consider himself a petty criminal.