Copyright & Seminars

Eoin Purcell

Seminars & Such
Tuesday was a busy day for seminars. As I mentioned yesterday(, I attended a Blogging and the Arts session in the morning, in the evening in the comfortable surroundings of Buswell’s Hotel (not too far away from were this was happening) I attended the Copyright Association of Ireland’s(the link is to an introduction page) seminar on recent developments in case law.

It was one of those meetings that reminds you why you find a subject fascinating and yet also imposes upon you a great sense of relief that you chose not too pursue a career in it.

By far the most relevant to publishing was the idea of Public Lending Right a concept we have only just introduced in Ireland and which will be run by the Library Council.

The initial cost is estimated to be €600,000 with full year costs put at €1,100,000. The talk at the seminar was that this seemed a modest sum. To me it seemed rather a lot. I have to say that as a publisher I don’t quite grasp the reason why Authors are remunerated for the books in the Public Lending Library over and above their royalty. Surely if there is a fee due to anyone for lost revenue it is due to all and why the author in particular ought to benefit and not the publisher (who after all finances the entire process) or the retailer (who loses sales to libraries) is beyond me.

Droit de Suite
One other matter emerged to worry me. The topic of Artist resale right came up as last year Ireland introduced a rather weak scheme designed to ensure that artists saw some of the return from the appreciation in value of their work.

Frankly I am completely dumbfounded by any such system. The basic premise of this seems to be you sell a painting to some buyer when it is worth say €300. That seller after three decades (or whatever period of time) decides that he/she has enjoyed the piece but feels like selling it, capturing the increased value and buyer some other art. Despite the fact that they have bought the piece outright you are entitled to 15% royalty from the price he receives for selling it if the price is €3000 or more.

I simply can see no reasonable logic for this tax on investment in art. Especially as it enriches those late in their careers and disadvantages newcomers, surely it depresses new art if buyers know that their potential for profit is reduced when selling it in years to come.

Where I am with copyright
I am beginning to realize that I am relatively alone in the world of Publishing in having a profoundly negative view of copyright in general. For one thing I see the length of its duration as obscene. Why 70 years following the death of an author? The estate of the author is surely adequately rewarded after 20 years. After all the actual originator of the literature has no use of the money, he will not be incentivized to produced new work no matter how much his works earn in royalties. The true beneficiaries (or so it seems) are the publishers and the living relatives of the writer. Neither the consumer, nor other artists looking to mash up or utilize aspects of the work benefit.

See the innovation
What is more, I truly believe that the length of copyright limits innovation by publishers. The back list is an essential element of all publishers’ catalogues (At Random House US the New York Magazine tells us it accounts for some 80% of the profit) but look for instance at the recent innovations in the field of Classics. Unhindered by copyright concerns, dozens of versions and editions of classic titles abound.

From exceptional quality hardbacks through slimmed down and abridged versions, chicklit versions, comic versions, red, green, black editions. Penguin has excelled at using free content to sell slim editions and fine special editions. Even my former employer Nonsuch has shown itself adept at this game finding a nice niche in publishing books that although popular in their time, they have no slid somewhat down the scale and remain outside the accepted Cannon.

My point is simply this. Copyright has its value and the artist deserves his or her reward while alive. I see the logic of allowing an estate to collect for a short period of time after the authors death but I cannot see the rational behind a 70 year exclusion zone. To be frank I would much rather a copyright based simply on the date of publication for a set time (perhaps 50 years).

But that is the lifeblood of industry!
And so it is but do we really need to hold copyright for 70 years after an authors death? How limited are the books for which a publisher actually holds and exploits these deadlines? I suspect the number of titles and authors is exceptionally limited. In fact I must search for that data. Project anyone . . . .

Of to do some work on this