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As we saw from an earlier post about whether and how artists should be paid, the place where art and finance meet (assuming such a place exists) is a site of contention, frustration, and not a little cynicism. If there exists a way to make money at all, it exists in protecting and managing access to the work (assuming there’s a demand, which is a whole separate issue). One of the ways to do this is via copyright.

But copyright is a complex and contentious issue too. And perhaps ironically, many open minded, free-spirited people out there (at least, among my friend and acquaintances) have pretty, well, liberal attitudes toward copyright–both possessing them, and respecting them. There are of course “fair use” laws, and alternate ways of legally defining one’s rights and intentions about one’s work, such as creative commons, but mostly artists just ignore this kind of stuff. Also, a whole lot of artists just download movies and music (and, no doubt soon, books) illegally.

So I want to pose a couple of questions about this, to everyone, of course, but mostly to the folks who responded to the last post by saying that yes, artists definitely deserve to get paid:

1) Do you copyright your own work?

2) Do you respect other copyrights?


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SHYA SCANLON is the Fiction Reviews Editor for The Nervous Breakdown. Scanlon's work has appeared in the Mississippi Review, Literary Review, New York Quarterly, Guernica Magazine, Opium Magazine, and others. His book of prose poetry, In This Alone Impulse, was published by Noemi Press in January, 2010. In 2009, his novel Forecast was serialized online across 42 journals and literary blogs as part of the Forecast 42 Project. Forecast will be published by Flatmancrooked in December, 2010. He received his MFA from Brown University, where he was awarded the John Hawkes Prize in Fiction.

Please visit him at www.shyascanlon.com.

16 responses to “Copy, right?”

  1. Richard Cox says:

    Predictably, I wasn’t as honorable about copyrights until I became published. But also, the timing was right. I downloaded music from the old Napster because it was the only way to download music, and most of what I downloaded was old music I couldn’t readily find. I still purchased CDs of new music, but really there wasn’t much I wanted to buy.

    Nowadays, with iTunes I pay for all the music I download. I’m happy to pay, because as a copyright holder I think artists should be paid for their work. That being said, I do occasionally trade music with a friend. And I’ll sometimes use copyrighted music in short films I post on YouTube. But they aren’t for profit. And really, with iTunes I buy ten times more music than I ever bought as CDs, because I can find obscure stuff much easier.

    Also, I never download films for free. I buy all my DVDs and Blu-ray discs, or stream them via Netflix. But if HBO doesn’t release Entourage season six soon, I may look for it online. The studios are goofy. I have money waiting to spend and they won’t release the damned discs.

    • Shya Scanlon says:

      I’ve gotta admit I find it somehow more acceptable to download (steal) music and/or movies that have already entered the popular lexicon. It’s like, if as a culture we’re going to go around quoting the Godfather all the damn time, references turning up in everything from advertisements to popular music, I shouldn’t have to pay to see what everyone’s talking about. If I’m going to be necessarily infected by a cultural meme, aren’t I owed the right to experience it firsthand?

  2. josie says:

    Like Richard, I used Napster to access old music and music from artists that hadn’t made it to mainstream. It was a great way to discover new artists. If money is the big issue, from a marketing perspective the underground trade of music has been the cause of many band’s success.

    Not only do I think that things like sharing mix collections, as Tobin did with me recently, isn’t a form of theft – I think it is a promotion of the artists. Because of at least two songs Tobin has “shared” with me, I’ve purchased the whole album and will continue to patronize those bands in the future. And we aren’t downloading whole albums it’s the equivalent of receiving the song on the radio for free.

    What really gets my goat is plagiarism.

    Because plagiarism steals the most important thing from the artist. When people quote from a book or a song and don’t reference the source that to me is truly a crime. It inhibits any kind of recuperation for the artist.

    Give me a song so I can get turned on to a musician,
    share with me a quote from some great book,
    use clips from movies in your home movies,
    but always reference the source!

  3. Ducky Wilson says:

    I copyright and register with WGA, but it doesn’t matter. Doesn’t stop theft.

    I had a major TV show talking to me about coming on as a writer. They wanted me to send in samples. I did. I included the script from my movie, which had just begun the festival circuit (in other words, it was already released.) Suddenly, the producer stopped taking my calls, returning my emails. I figured she hated my writing. Months pass, then the new season begins. I was a huge fan of the show, so I tuned it. Was floored when I saw my script unfolding before my eyes in an alternate universe (same story with different actors – quite surreal.)

    Did I sue? No. What’s the point? I don’t have the money it would take to battle a big corporation like _._.

    Better to move on. I have many more stories in me anyway.

    But this is also one reason why theft occurs. Corporate America knows they have the power to win over the individual artist. There is no Big Brother watching The Corporation. Or having my back.

    And so it continues.

    • Shya Scanlon says:

      Have you blogged about this, or tried in any other way to make public your experience? And if not, is it for fear of prosecution, or is it because you don’t want to burn bridges, or both?

      And you’re right: copyright isn’t going to stop someone determined to steal something. But it signals you’re serious, and in the event that something happens so rapaciously exploitative it forces you court side, well, you have all the paperwork…

      • Ducky Wilson says:

        Unfortunately, my story is far too common for anyone to be interested.

        Certainly, there is the burning bridges aspect. A writer who sues in Hollywood is bound not to work again.

        But truthfully, it was my agent who cautioned me against it. He sued a famous show for stealing a script he wrote for a rival show (yes, this happens all the time.) Though he won, he spent 25 years in court over it. It literally made him sick.

        The energy it takes to fight Goliath is sometimes not worth the battle. Better to move forward. Let go.

        My stories can be stolen, but my mind cannot.

  4. Darian Arky says:

    I protect intellectual property rights. It’s my job, ma’am. I’m a government man.

  5. Phat B says:

    There’s a DJ named Girl Talk whose albums contain hundreds of samples. He skirts the law because, apparently, if you use less than 30 seconds of a piece you’re not breaking the law. The rights to all the samples would be pricey. So I downloaded his album off the net, since he saved all that money not paying the original artists and all…

    And I always disseminate what happened in NFL games to others, even though I lack the expressed written consent of the NFL to do so.

    • Ducky Wilson says:

      Actually, that isn’t accurate. Any usage regardless of time must be cited and compensated. There are some Fair Use exceptions (not many). That DJ has just been lucky. Or perhaps she/he skirts it by parodying. There are laws that allow for that. Hard to say without hearing, but there is no time minimum.

      • Shya Scanlon says:

        Interesting. You should check it out–I’m quite sure he doesn’t consider it parody. I don’t know whether or not he pays for the rights.

        I’ve got to say that, while I think artists should be compensated–or rather, I think artists should fight for compensation–I’m far too sensitive to what I see as an underlying sickness our culture has with regard to ownership and property to be really convinced to take this thinking to a level of passionate principle.

  6. He doesn’t pay for the rights. He maintains its fair use. So far, he hasn’t been sued. iTunes won’t sell at least one of his CDs anymore, but he uploaded them to illegalart.net, anyway.

    Which is interesting. He stole the work of a mess of other artists to create his own, which means he basically has no copyright claim to it. If I uploaded one of his albums to the web, or put it on my website, I’m not sure he’d have justification for demanding I take it down.

    The Internet makes access easy, which makes copyright more difficult, more complicated, and more fluid. It used to mean literally that: that whomever had the right could copy the work.

    Now it tends to mean more in the way of a license, I think. Especially with regard to big corporate publishers and such. And especially now with regard to print versus digital information and distribution.

  7. J.E. Fishman says:

    Two guys are drag-racing down the highway at 95 mph. A cop pulls over the guy who was trailing. “But it’s not fair,” he says. “The other guy was driving just as fast, and you didn’t pull him over!”

    Not being caught doesn’t mean you weren’t breaking the law or impinging on someone else’s rights. That said, no one gets pulled over for going ten miles per hour over the speed limit on the highway. Cops are looking for bigger fish. So, for the most part, are copyright holders. Allowing a little stealing may make our own work more valuable. But, like the highway patrol, make sure the people passing through know that you’re watching.

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