Copyright(s) & Wrongs

The issue of copyright is a minefield for the average person. Copyright has to strike a delicate balance between protecting the creators of music, words or photographs and the presentation of such material to a wider public.

On the one hand, it is only fair that the creators get paid for what they create. On the other, if copyright protection is too tight, then distribution of material becomes too restricted.

If Shakespeare was still in copyright less of his work would be seen. The same principle may help explain the appeal of the ‘classics’ in all artistic fields with producers. Could this weigh against new artists?

The concept of intellectual property was based around the distinction between mechanical invention, and literary or cultural creation.

That idea is now less appropriate to the ways in which creativity is carried out – software development, biotechnology and gene science all blur the boundaries between the mechanical and the intellectual. The advent of the internet has changed the way copyright works.

Going into a shop and stealing a CD is theft, and yet using new technology, down-loading tracks from the internet seems quite different.

Proposals to disconnect so-called peer to peer file-sharers have caused concern among internet campaigners. This is when people who know nothing of each other beyond a username, share music or films even though only one of them has bought the original. One thing is clear, and that is that a short-term fix on these copyright issues is not helpful or appropriate.

This attitude, that if it is available to download from the web then it is free, is even more pronounced with photographic images. When pictures were printed on paper it was easy to control, but new technology makes those old laws out-dated or at least difficult to enforce.

Stuart Franklin took the famous picture of the protester standing in front of the tank at Tiananmen Square – an image that has appeared on countless T-shirts around the world.

“We licensed my photographs to go on posters and T-shirts through business associates, the photograph itself is almost in the public domain, but if people want to use it to make a profit, such as a magazine or newspaper, then they have to pay, we have no problem at all with dissemination and actively encourage students and young people to engage with the photography. What we don’t encourage is pilfering for profit of our work,” he said..

There is a view that photographers should accept their work is going to be broadcast widely, whilst others say they should find the technical means to stop copying.

“While I understand that photographers and industries want to protect their images they have to find other ways to prevent people from sharing,” said Olivier Laurent of the British Journal of Photography. This is why companies in the US are working on ways for copyright information to be an integral part of the image which cannot be removed.

William Fisher at Harvard University thinks copyright protection is too strict, so, for example, works of art derived from photographs are blocked. By extending copyright protection to every snapshot, every digital image, the system becomes unwieldy, over-protective. “Billions of images are being created every minute all around the world and they are all protected by copyright law,” he says.

He acknowledges that a system is needed that affords protection to photographers who wish to have control over their work. “But too much copyright protection impedes cultural conversations and cultural usage,” he says. “It would be better if the photographer registered any image he wanted to protect with an online registration system,” he says, “and that any other work was in the public domain.”

The situation is not helped by the attitude of many people to the large corporations who are often in a position to enforce copyright in a manner a small business or individual could not. Neither does it seem right that the individual consumer unwittingly using the internet for personal, non-profit use, should be doing so illegally, unenforceable or not.

Some sites stipulate what may be freely copied and what may not. Few do so with the grace and humour of cartoonist Gary Larson:

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:   I’m walking a fine line here. On the one hand, I confess to finding it quite flattering that some of my fans have created web sites displaying and / or distributing my work on the Internet. And, on the other, I’m struggling to find the words that convincingly but sensitively persuade these Far Side enthusiasts to “cease and desist” before they have to read these words from some lawyer.What impact this unauthorized use has had (and is having) in tangible terms is, naturally, of great concern to my publishers and therefore to me — but it’s not the focus of this letter. My effort here is to try and speak to the intangible impact, the emotional cost to me, personally, of seeing my work collected, digitized, and offered up in cyberspace beyond my control.

Years ago I was having lunch one day with the cartoonist Richard Guindon, and the subject came up how neither one of us ever solicited or accepted ideas from others. But, until Richard summed it up quite neatly, I never really understood my own aversions to doing this: “It’s like having someone else write in your diary,” he said. And how true that statement rang with me. In effect, we drew cartoons that we hoped would be entertaining or, at the very least, not boring; but regardless, they would always come from an intensely personal, and therefore original perspective.
To attempt to be “funny” is a very scary, risk-laden proposition. (Ask any stand-up comic who has ever “bombed “on stage.) But if there was ever an axiom to follow in this business, it would be this: be honest to yourself and — most important — respect your audience.
So, in a nutshell (probably an unfortunate choice of words for me), I only ask that this respect be returned, and the way for anyone to do that is to please, please refrain from putting ‘The Far Side’ out on the Internet. These cartoons are my “children,” of sorts, and like a parent, I’m concerned about where they go at night without telling me. And, seeing them at someone’s web site is like getting the call at 2:00 a.m. that goes, “Uh, Dad, you’re not going to like this much, but guess where I am”.. I hope my explanation helps you to understand the importance this has for me, personally, and why I’m making this request.  Please send my “kids” home. I’ll be eternally grateful.  Most respectfully,                                         Gary Larson

Comments based on various reports at:

Gary Larson’s request at:

Image: ‘Delboy’ thanks to SHOUT Entertainment Agency

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