Week 8: Copyright or Copyleft? Exploring, Debating, and Hating Intellectual Property Laws

Like politics and religion, copyright is pervasive, debated, and entrenched in our global society. To expand, its existence operates as a “legal concept, enacted by most governments through associated copyright laws, giving the creator of intellectual property specific rights” (Curtin University, 2014). From a creative standpoint, this statement refers to the protection of a wide array of subject matter from “written works such as articles, books, poems, manuals and even telephone directories to music, to pictorial works such as drawings, paintings and maps, to broadcast media such as television, film and radio” (Magnum Legal Services, 2010). In particular, this protection provides the creator with an exclusive right to enjoy the fruits of their creative skills and endeavours – and in particular the fruits that arise from “economic” uses of their creations (Dowd, 2006). In addition, by protecting the rights of creators, the law of copyright provides a society-wide incentive to encourage the production of new works (Magnum Legal Services, 2010). In turn, we would expect the notion of copyright to appear fair, agreeable, and perhaps appealing for any creative practitioner in our society. However many individuals argue that copyright serves to enrich a few at the expense of creativity as well as restrict the public’s natural right to use, modify, and share creative works. Like pro-copyright material (see video above), this ongoing stance against traditional copyright views can be explored throughout a series of creative products such as video-based parodies, satirical artwork, remixed songs, and theatrical renditions. To enhance our understanding of this widespread debate, it’s important we consider both copyright and copyleft viewpoints to inform our own standpoint relating to intellectual property.

From a case study standpoint, this week’s tutorial aimed to explore a series of questions related to copyright law, including: does copyright enhance or restrict creativity? To explore this notion, the class separated into two factions: copyright and copyleft, providing the opportunity for discussion, personal opinion, and arguments to sway our thinking related to intellectual property law. From a personal perspective, the flaws on both economic and cultural grounds from the concept of copyright provided a series of key arguments to favour the view of copyleft. To expand, we can perhaps explore the notion that our background, past experiences, and creative philosophy can play a vital role in our backing of either copyright or copyleft viewpoints. For example, the tutorial’s landslide support of copyright laws may have been influenced by its demographics: young undergraduate students that have yet to be fully recognised, financed, or paid for their creative work. In turn, the select economic benefits associated with copyright can perhaps be more appealing than the non-economic rights related to copyleft (Curtin University, 2014).

In contrast to supporting select aspects of the copyleft movement, it’s important to consider what pro-copyright arguments swayed our thinking. Firstly it seems necessary to note that copyright laws play a vital role in our society, granting the creator of an original work exclusive rights to its use and distribution as well as enabling them to receive compensation for their intellectual effort (Dowd, 20). In turn, this underlying principle prevents an individual from imitating, manipulating or downright plagiarising a piece of creative work. To enhance our understanding of this statement, we can explore a selection of lawsuits that provided compensation, protection, and recognition for aspiring artists that discovered their creative work plagiarised. For example, hip hop group The Black Eyed Peas were successfully sued $1.2 million dollars by Ohio DJ Lynn Tolliver, claiming that his song “I Need a Freak” was sampled without his permission in the 2005 hit single “My Humps” (NME, 2011). Despite this, it’s important to consider the exceeding examples of past copyright lawsuits that favoured billion dollar corporations over independent companies, small businesses, or creative individuals. Like many legal systems, it’s possible to argue that copyright may facilitate those with the most financial backing or mass media influence. In turn, we could explore the notion that copyright laws are providing billion dollar media conglomerates with increasing powers, ownership, and influence over the creative industries (see Fig. 8.1).

Fig 8.1: Like many mass media conglomerates, the Walt Disney Company continues to purchase intellectual property from outside sources. In 2012 Disney had, for $4 billion, acquired Lucasfilm and its subsidiaries, providing complete creative control and ownership of the legendary StarWars franchise. Following this purchase, over 32 copyright lawsuits were filed against various creative practitioners, companies, and studios for using StarWars characters that now belonged to the Walt Disney Company (Polo, 2012).

Fig 8.1: Like many mass media conglomerates, the Walt Disney Company continues to purchase intellectual property from outside sources. In 2012 Disney had, for $4 billion, acquired Lucasfilm and its subsidiaries, providing complete creative control and ownership of the legendary StarWars franchise. Following this purchase, over 32 copyright lawsuits were filed against various creative practitioners, companies, and studios for using StarWars characters that now belonged to the Walt Disney Company (Polo, 2012).

Fig. 8.2: Copyrighted to Warner/Chappell Music, "Happy Birthday to You" receives an estimated US$2,000,000 per year to the copyright holders (FMT News, 2014)

Fig. 8.2: Copyrighted to Warner/Chappell Music, “Happy Birthday to You” receives an estimated US$2,000,000 per year to the copyright holders (FMT News, 2014)

To support our partial opposition to prevalent copyright laws, it’s important we explore the dark side of copyright as well as challenge the arguments delivered by it’s supporters in this week’s tutorial. From a personal perspective, many of the pro-copyright viewpoints were highly frustrating as they contrasted with the pro-copyleft notion of what constitutes as creative work. In particular, there was an underlying sense of irony throughout the debate as several pro-copyright peers were liable for incorporating copyrighted photographs, fictional characters, and trademark patterns into their own creative endeavours without consent from the original creators. From a design standpoint, this statement relates to many creative institutions, practitioners, and scholars that argue, “the best ideas come from building on the ideas, artistic endeavours, and inventions of others” (Johnson, 2010). To expand, it’s possible to argue that every modern creation is somewhat unoriginal, drawing its ideas from the back of a pre-existing design, invention, or piece of work. For example, organisations like IBM, Microsoft, and Apple, have a long history of profiting, marketing, and adapting their designs from pre-existing ideas and technology. For many pro-copyright individuals, this reality may be labelled as theft, sacrilege or perhaps easier to overlook by staring into their beloved Apple iPhones (ZING!). However it’s important for any creative practitioner to consider the possibility that increasing copyright laws stand to negatively affect the creative industries. To enhance our understanding of this notion, we can apply prevalent copyright laws to the past, providing the argument that many influential works, inventions, and experiments may have been deemed plagiarised and subsequently undervalued. For example, we can explore the idea that William Shakespeare, Hans Christen Andersen and C. S. Lewis could have breached copyright laws by drawing upon folklores, legends, and religious scriptures. This concept may appear a farfetched scenario to support copyleft thinking but we only need to consider the traditional song “happy birthday” as a modern example of intellectual property laws gone mad (see Fig. 8.2).

References

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2 Responses to Week 8: Copyright or Copyleft? Exploring, Debating, and Hating Intellectual Property Laws

  1. You make for a great debate… Your entry was in depth and really looked at a range of views on the topic. well done

    Like

  2. finnianwilly says:

    I can only dream writing blog posts like you. Amazing stuff!

    Like

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