A word on copyright, you need it, you want it, you have to have it, — but it doesn’t really do you much good

If you read yesterday’s post, you’re probably beginning to wonder about copyright. The truth is IP/copyright laws are way too confusing for artists to understand. And even if creative types understood them, they’re way, way behind the times (and a lot of countries ignore them completely). Even “IP and copyright law For Dummies” wouldn’t help at this point.  Although we wish there were such a book!

Take this for example “Luv Hurtz” by the renowned American artist Wayne White.

In the world of copyright, this should be a derivative work because he took someone else’s painting (or a print thereof usually, which is still under copyright, because the artist is still alive), and painted on it (the coloful words). This is what Wayne White does. It’s his trademark work and it’s brilliant. He added something to the work, so it’s original. But it’s also derivative and infringing and that’s the sort of thing that freaks copyright attorneys.

In the world of music, sampling is a similar situation.  Sampling pushed the question of what is original in the same way.  If you sample a few chords and stick it into your song, how is that different than adding to the painting?  Apparently the music industry has gone overboard though.  Justifiably protecting copyrighted music has turned into . . . something way different.  Just read Chris O’Neal’s Feb 24, 2011 article in the Ventura ReporterSound of Silence about  how music protection has turned into a protection racket in one small California city. It will make you sick.

Not enough? Check out a recent NPR broadcast on Patents: When Patents Attack by Alex Blumberg and Laura Sydell. It’s as much a comment on American business and venture capitalism as it is how terribly wrong law has gone, to the point it’s killing off innovation and innovators.

As for books, unfortunately, it’s the same story. Writing fan fiction, is derivative.  You are using the author’s characters to make a new work.  On the other hand, creating an encyclopedia of all the characters that turn up on Star Trek, or in Lord of The Rings, isn’t. That’s an original work. But does any of that matter if your entire book is going to be on bit.torrent for free within hours of being published and probably translated into other languages and sold without your knowledge?

Sorry, readers, and writers, creators of any kind, as long as Congress allows companies to hide behind internet neutrality, and legally sponsor the theft of IP, of any sort, copyright protection will remain a joke for the 99% of creative people that don’t understand it well to begin with and don’t have millions of dollars to spend on pursuing protracted court fights and ongoing global legal representation. Let’s face if Apple can’t quash IP / Copyright issues . . .

JK Rowling and her lawyers seem to understand all this.

We’ve always presumed Potter books were never going to be released in e-book versions till the markets were already fully book saturated. This was part of what we presume was a viable legal strategy. It’s been easy for Rowling’s legal team to sue every ebook version that turned up around the globe until now, because no legal ebook versions existed. It didn’t stop all theft, but, it preserved the protection of copyright and a chunk of the clearly foreseeable ebook profits.

And too, while no one here is a copy-leftist, the only thing worse than copyright infringement for an author/artist, is total obscurity. Marketing people, as well as creative types, know this. It’s why Rowling and her lawyers seem to be so nice to fans about their derivative works, even commercially viable derivatives, like t-shirts and such. In the end, these things are thought to do Rowling, the publisher / movie media team more good — increase legal sales of her work — than harm.

But then again, that’s how big a name you have to be to get even the smallest amount of protection. Sad, isn’t it?

Sincere regrets to any lawyers reading this blog. We are not encouraging any type of infringement, merely stating the reality.  As an author, you want your book copyright protected, but that protection, even the meaning of protection, in today’s publishing world, is a little sketchy.

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