Saturday, March 22, 2008
Who owns a metaphor? Or, when is a battlefield a soccer pitch?
(Where am I? Lost in mixed metaphors.)
For the most part, I'm mentally and physically away from the copyright debate for the next week. I'm occupying quiet corners of Manhattan, pretending to be someone else and writing about it. Occasionally, there will be martinis.
But as I leave my identity behind for awhile, I need to clarify one small point about what "John Degen" thinks.
Over at digital-copyright.ca, Darryl Moore has blogged about my opinions. Not all that surprisingly, I find little I recognize in his description of what I believe.
Referring to a letter I published in the Hill Times last fall, Moore writes:
The part of this letter that really bothered me was the very last sentence. "In all the arguments about large corporate interests at war with consumers on the field of copyright, it is often forgotten that creators own the field." This, in a nut shell, exemplifies the core philosophical differences between John Degen and myself.
Moore goes on to explain that I'm wrong about creators owning the field, because the field belongs to all of us, it contains our culture, etc. He then writes:
...when artists are back in the dressing room making their latest great work, that work undoubtedly belongs to them. But when they bring it out onto the field to share, society gets to claim some ownership of it.
Dressing room? My battle metaphor has turned into a sports metaphor. It continues:
Creators are players like the rest of us and they need to learn to share the ball so that we will all find the game that much more enjoyable.
Let's start over.
If we are discussing our shared culture, our creative commons, and we want to see it as a large soccer game, is there another player on the pitch who does more sharing of the ball than the creator? The creator makes a work, and then boots it out there for everyone to kick around. It might even be said, in Darryl's version of what I mean, that the creator owns the ball. How incredibly generous of the creator, then, to let everyone else have a go at it.
Now, my actual, original metaphor made the rules and conventions of copyright into a battlefield, on which consumers and large corporations are currently fighting. When I wrote "it is often forgotten that creators own the field," I had in my mind the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, one of the foundational agreements in modern copyright law. This agreement creates a landscape of rules and provisions -- a field, if you will -- the purpose of which is to, what? Well, it's right there in the title -- its purpose is to protect literary and artistic works.
Our great and generous creative commons exists so that we may all have a vibrant and shared culture. I will be celebrating that shared culture with every word I write this coming week. Hopefully, not all that long from now, I will be booting my new novel out onto Darryl's metaphorical soccer pitch, and he can kick it around all he wants.
Copyright, on the other hand, exists primarily and fundamentally to offer limited moral and economic protections to creators. The landscape of copyright was fenced off and granted to creators. It belongs to creators. And we don't play soccer on it.
But here's the most important point -- and one that often seems to be lost when people claim to know what I believe about copyright. When I think of a creator, I am not thinking only about professional writers or artists. It just so happens I administer the Professional Writers Association of Canada, and advocate for professional writers' rights from my Executive Director's chair, so confusion on this point is understandable.
Still, when I write about the creator's rights under copyright, I am writing about everyone's rights under copyright. Because everybody, at one point or another in their life, will create a literary or artistic work. And when they do, that work will and should be protected by copyright. That does not mean the work will stayed fenced in, in the dressing room, at the concession stand, on the streetcar on the way to the stadium, or whatever other metaphor you want to use. The work, having entered our culture, belongs to our culture. But certain rights to the work belong to its creator -- to you, the creator. To everyone, the creators.
Good for us all.