What have they got against us volunteers’ way of life?

Campaigners seem to be having some success in raising the profile of writers and others giving away the product of their labour for free. The first time I ran into this issue in any big way was in launching the Government 2.0 Taskforce with a design competition. The prize? The love and adulation of the community. Now the case against being asked to do stuff for free has made it onto Books and Arts Daily on RN, where after a nervous start, I thought the editor of the new Daily Review did a good job.

I was surprised last night to follow a tweet by libertarian Russ Roberts to this takedown of TEDx. When this guy explained “Why I’m Not a TEDx Speaker” I thought he might be about to decry its relentless drive down market. But no – it was because he wasn’t going to get paid.

Now Julia Baird weighs in and my friend Tim Dunlop is seeking advice.

Ok, some advice please. I just got a request from a book publisher to reproduce a piece I wrote a while back. It will be in a book for use in secondary schools, a collection of essays on Australian politics with a print run of 2000. While they ask for copyright permission, they are very careful not to mention payment.

So my question is, do I ask for some sort of payment on the basis that writers should be paid? Or do I make an exception because it is being used for educational purposes?

You can read others’ comments on his thread. But I reproduce my own to begin the debate out in the open rather than inside the walled garden of Facebook, which, as I point out in my comment, has the temerity to have Tim writing for it, yet all the while not paying him a cent! Not only that but all those commenters arguing that publishers should pay their contributors, well there they are, giving away their own writing, the sweat of their brow.

I’m shocked: shocked!

I fail to see a moral issue here. Do what you want as they are. You want to be published – at no cost to yourself – but might not be if you insist on payment. Then again you might be and walk away with the money.
The problem with seeing it as a moral issue – or one such problem – is that you don’t know how profitable what they’re doing is. And it’s probably not all that profitable.

There’s a whole world of content that will be reprinted if it’s free and not if it’s not. So if you’re in that world, no-one wins if you insist on payment. If you’re in the world in which they’ll pay, if you demand it and they do – you win and to the extent that it shifts the cash from them to you – they lose.
There’s something depressing about writers making this a moral issue. It’s not that I don’t feel their pain, don’t want them to make money – but if there’s no money there? And what artist can – OR SHOULD – prosper without giving lots of stuff away for free. That’s our lives in the modern world – in fact it’s always been that way – a rich ecology of paid and unpaid work. We get asked to do something in our community and we do – or don’t. It might promote our money making activities, it might not.
Tim you’re using Facebook to post your thoughts – your writing no less! Why don’t you demand that they pay you – there are all those ads just to my right – “Women looking for man 49+”. Facebook are making SERIOUS MONEY out of your writing. BILLIONS!! I wouldn’t be tempted to click through if it wasn’t for your writing. So I’d get on that email and send them your demands. I’d say they’ve probably made at least fifty cents from your post already. Go get at least ten cents off them!

It depresses me that at a time of unprecedented possibilities in which every word written is a potential global public good, we are reverting to a crude union mentality from a quite different time and place. It reminds me of the IP maximalism we see from incumbent media institutions where things that work very well – like fair use exceptions to copyright – are fought tooth and nail as they are being fought right now.  The level of value destruction to which more restrictive arrangements give rise is large and yet the benefit of such arrangements to the incumbent IP holders is extremely small. That’s because the test of ‘fairness’ in fair use is explicitly designed to prevent non-permitted use undermining the IP owner’s economic exploitation of their copyright.

Like I said to the Music Council of Australia “[T]he copyright maximalists are fighting for their right to prevent people from doing anything they don’t like, even if its costs to them are negligible.” I suspect that’s the case here. The campaign would generate remarkably little money for writers even if it was successful, but of course it stands no chance whatever.

Anyway, here’s my challenge. If you really take seriously the idea that people should refuse to have their work reproduced by for profit publishers, don’t post or comment on facebook or twitter!

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john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago

“the test of ‘fairness’ in fair use is explicitly designed to prevent non-permitted use undermining the IP owner’s economic exploitation of their copyright.”

That is the case in the US “Fair use”, they essentialy use a variation on the Bernes 3 Step test , as to purpose of the use being fair or unfair. Australia’s fair dealing provisions do not operate in the same way.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicholas Gruen

The first two thirds of of the article is ,I think, about individual choices – to volunteer or not to volunteer.
It then seems to shift to collectivist “union” objections to “Fair Use” and the lack of ” benefit of such arrangements to the incumbent IP holders ….” (I agree).

However you then make a link that is not true :”That’s because the test of ‘fairness’ in fair use is explicitly designed to prevent non-permitted use undermining the IP owner’s economic exploitation of their copyright.”

BTW
There are plenty of non-monetary reasons why an individual might, at times, say no to the use of their ‘IP’ by somebody that they dislike,distrust or simply do not wish to be associated with, for whatever reason, regardless of the money.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicholas Gruen

Nicolas
What was the reason/’need’ for statutory licensing, for some form of education related usage?

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago
Reply to  john r walker

I agree that the uses you mention easily pass the 3 step test.

However I asked :What was the reason /’need’ for the statutory licensing scheme ( introduced in the mid 80s) that effectively transformed a group of Authors/Publishers into a biggish collection management business I.e CAL? ….

Bill Posters
Bill Posters
8 years ago

“It depresses me that at a time of unprecedented possibilities in which every word written is a potential global public good, we are reverting to a crude union mentality from a quite different time and place.”

Yes, how dare those writers want to put food on the table. They should of course live off the “unprecedented possibilities” of “potential global public good”.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago

Copyright and the digital age is a very polyphonic, multiple view point reality: binary representations of ‘copyright’ are, at best, useless.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago

Nicholas
Another viewing angle:
To my eye the “maximalists” are fighting for rights to forcibly collectively manage as many right-holders as possible. It is control of management of production and distribution, not consumption, that is the aim.

For example:
The Google books case(s)- while the saga started as a action by the Authors Guild over fair/unfair use, it very quickly diverted into an interminable, years long, legal debate as to whether a small group of mostly elderly US authors could legally sign what was effectively a collective licensing agreement , binding on, initially, all authors globally. ( In the watered down MK2 version of the settlement the scope was reduced to only all US, UK and AU authors.)
And
It was only after justice Chin squashed the claim of representative class status for the Authors Guild, that the initial question over fair use re the scanning/indexing and snippet display of in copyright books was considered. And that is a bit strange because by all accounts there was never much doubt that scanning and snippet display, by anybody, was “fair use”.

In fact while the proposed Google books Settlement covered all manner of things, the one thing that was definitely not in the settlement ‘set’ was Fair Use.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago

Nicholas
It is not” legal minutiae” to point out that the following does not make sense (and is a bit ‘colored’) :

“The level of value destruction to which more restrictive arrangements give rise is large and yet the benefit of such arrangements to the incumbent IP holders is extremely small. That’s because the test of ‘fairness’ in fair use is explicitly designed to prevent non-permitted use undermining the IP owner’s economic exploitation of their copyright.”

The reason why there is a levy on- ‘photocopying’, in Australian Unis, is not because of any sort of test as to fair use… we do not have a fair use test.

The emotional ’need’ satisfied by the CAL statutory licensing scheme, was that it gave that group of authors statutory recognition as being representative of all Australian authors.The money was very secondary, most of them have or had day jobs. The world of recognition is a under the stairs, Hungry Ghosts world, you can never have enough recognition.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago
Reply to  john r walker

PS you haven’t mentioned how payments for what is really ‘blanket licensing’ blocks the commercial offering of education materials on other, newer and more competitive payment options. It is absurd that we are still sampling photocopier use and doing statistical averaging, i.e 1985, in 2013.

john r walker
john r walker(@annesanders)
8 years ago

Nicolas
Sorry, I will try to make myself clearer.

Like you, I can not instruct CAL, to not collect the statutory levy on my behalf.
Regardless of whether I take the money or not it is collected.
None of us can in the context of the levy, volunteer our stuff for free either sometimes or all the time.

The levy is in itself a significant restriction of normal exclusive individual rights- the use or non use of copyright is normally strictly a matter for the individual right-holder choice.

The ‘ 3 step’ justification for this restriction, at the time, was the benefit to a special purpose-education and lack of a workable alternative, it was not principally about benefits to right-holders at all. And it was never a good solution even then.

As best as I can work out the reason for the levy approach was that in the 80s it was not possible to administer a system for education use that worked like normal copyright- on a individual case by case basis.
In particular it was not possible to determine whether a photocopier was being used to make copies of old newspapers or multiple copies of whole slabs of a libraries one copy of a in print book, so everybody had to pay regardless of whether or not they were infringing or not. And the money collected was then distributed in ways that inevitably benefit the historically well established.

If you want to change things its important to understand the history, the syntax, of the ‘thing’ you want to change.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
8 years ago

School textbooks can have massive runs. A 10c royalty could multiply into 1000s of dollars. So the potential sums are quite large.

A few years back I received an identical request to Tim and let them have it for free. The choice for me was whether I wanted tens of thousands of students to hear my view for free, or someone else’s view for free.