Copyright matters. Let’s not get started on Kim Dotcrim or the “information wants to be free” mantra of people who don’t create but are just, in every sense, users. For New Zealand authors and publishers, our current battle is with the universities to get them to stump up for the licences that let them copy pages, chapters or even entire books for their students and thereby pay the creators. It is amazing that academics – who are also authors, if they are any good – should be so hostile to authors’ rights. And as an author, I must say that I do like to be paid for the use of my work. Call me old-fashioned.
Following yesterday’s guest post of Steve Braunias’s brilliant speech at the 2013 Copyright Licensing NZ awards last week, here is the other brilliant speech from that night. Very unusual to have two out of two good speeches at one event but it happened, thanks to Paula Browning, CEO of Copyright Licensing NZ.
We don’t expect much from the sponsor’s speech, do we. These are invariably, inevitably, inexorably dismal. But Paula was electric. I’m not sure that you get that sense of electricity from the text without her delivery on the night but here, slightly trimmed, is the text:
I’m always very conscious of my choice of words when I’m either speaking to or writing for a literary audience. Without any form of literary pedigree it’s more than a little intimidating to be the focus of attention in a room full of our top writers and publishers. It’s been especially challenging this year to find the words to describe the past 12 months at CLNZ. This time last year we were looking forward to finalising the next term of our licences with the New Zealand tertiary sector – but this was not to be. We now find ourselves at the Copyright Tribunal arguing for fair payment for the use of your publications in our universities.
This is a stand we must take because copyright – your right to earn a living from your writing – is under attack. Governments throughout the world are being swayed by the well-funded lobbying of the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple into changing copyright law in ways that benefit these corporate giants’ business models. We’ve already seen this happen in Canada and the UK, and legislative reviews are underway in the United States and Australia.
We refer to those who refuse to see the value in intellectual property rights as the copy-left. You might think that this type of effective and highly mobilised group are only active overseas – but alas, no. In New Zealand we have our very own copy-left group made up of a dozen or more organisations, including some that will be very familiar to you. I’m sure you’ve all heard of TradeMe. How about Lianza, the library association, or Internet New Zealand, the organisation that operates the dot.co.do.nz domain name? These three are among the membership of a group that has named itself “Fair Deal”. They say they want a fair deal for New Zealand from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, otherwise known as the TPP.
On that point copyright owners can agree with them. We also want New Zealand to have effective trade agreements that are fit for the type of trade that takes place in the 21st century – trade that includes intellectual property and copyright. We can also agree with Fair Deal that it would be better for all countries involved in these trade agreements if the negotiation process was more transparent. The limited details we do have of the intellectual property chapter of the agreement date from two years ago when a copy of the paper was leaked. This type of smoke-and-mirrors negotiation isn’t good for anyone.
However, the approach of the copy-left in wanting to throw the baby out with the bathwater isn’t going to solve anything either. If we are going to have copyright law in New Zealand that ensures that the creativity we are so well regarded for generates an economic return for both those who create and for our country, then we need informed debate.
This is where you come in. I know that, as writers and publishers, you like to sit quietly in a sunny room and tap away on your keyboard to create beautiful books that we all want to own and to read – but in the current political climate I’m afraid that’s not enough. If you want your writing and publishing to continue to be an income-generating activity in future, the time to speak up is now.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment recently published a list of six business sectors for which it is commissioning reports into their economic value. The first report has been released – it was on ICT, or Information and Communications Technology. The other five are tourism, petroleum and minerals, construction, high-tech manufacturing and something called “knowledge-intensive industries”, which is mainly the scientific and technical services sector.
No sign of the creative sector in that list, is there. So if the government doesn’t know what our creative economy is worth, how does it know what it’s potentially trading away in agreements like the TPP?
In the absence of this type of data, the creative industries are busy preparing their own. Film and Television released a report earlier this year that puts its value at close to $3 billion and employment in the industry at over 20,000 people. The music industry has a similar report – figures from this are due out soon.
And what does the New Zealand book sector look like? Well, hopefully we will have a general idea by the end of this year when the report we have commissioned from PricewaterhouseCoopers is completed. We’ve given the team at PWC a huge challenge, as the data that’s needed for these economic value reports just isn’t available from the New Zealand book sector. Something else we need to actively work on in the short term.
None of us needs to be reminded of the dire news that has hit the publishing sector this year with the withdrawal of multinational publishers from the New Zealand market and yesterday’s shock announcement of the closure of Learning Media. At an Asia Pacific copyright meeting in Bangkok a couple of weeks ago I joked that soon New Zealand children would be reading about kangaroos instead of kiwis. But it’s really not funny. We’re used to a rich creative culture. We’re used to having access to our own stories in our own books and our own TV programmes through our own music and our own movies. It’s something we’re inherently proud of as we were able to unequivocally demonstrate at the Frankfurt Book Fair last year.
All of this is at risk if we do not have effective copyright law. Without it, the business model that is the foundation of the creative economy will be worthless.
So what can you do? Do what you do well – write. Whether it’s a blog, twitter, opinion pieces, articles – anything that stimulates informed debate that shows the value of copyright and local publishing to our economy. The time is right to do this now. The government has announced that it has deferred the review of our Copyright Act pending the conclusion of the TPP. This gives us time for a robust discussion.
Talk to your friends and family about what copyright means – especially the younger ones. The ones who think it’s OK to post a question on Facebook asking their mates for a copy of their digital movie collection or the ones who share copies of digital textbooks on USB sticks. They want to be able to copy and share, and technology lets them do it easily, but they’re completely removed from the impact that very copying has on our creative economy. They need you to tell them.
This year our selection panel commented that the finalists for tonight’s awards are those applications where the passion for their subject is evident. New Zealand needs you to get passionate about copyright and your rights as owners of intellectual property.
I know it’s not sexy and it’s not an easy dinner-party conversation but it is critical to the future of New Zealand writers and New Zealand writing. If we all sit back and think someone else will fight the fight for us, we risk losing the rights we currently have.