April 30, 2015
British Green Party rethinks their suggestion of reducing copyright terms after getting the side-eye from the likes of Philip Pullman
by Wah-Ming Chang
As we reported on April 24, the British Green Party isn’t so popular with writers right now. The party’s desire to limit copyright to 14 years from publication has dismayed writers such as Philip Pullman and Linda Grant.
Thomas Hescott notes: “An enormous amount [sic] of writers were talking of voting Greens. So it’s remarkably stupid of the Greens to propose a 14 year copyright term.”
Sarah McIntyre, the children’s illustrator and writer, told The Telegraph:
It took me a long time to get into publishing and I’ve only started earning royalties. It’s very hard to make a living in this job, hardly anyone gets rich at it. J. K. Rowling and Julia Donaldson are the exceptions, most writers and illustrators earn below minimum wage. I think if I work hard enough, I might just be able to scrape by.
It scares me when it looks like someone wants to take away yet another source of income. It sounds like the Greens want us to rely on the Arts Council for funding instead of earning money directly from our work, and that would involve writing endless complicated grant proposals. I’d rather let my readers decide whether my work is worth their money than a handful of people in a government office.
Now, thanks to the loud backlash on Twitter and elsewhere, the Green Party is rethinking their proposal. There is also some confusion as to whether the proposal is actually part of an old manifesto that never was meant to go into effect, at least not now. A Green Party spokesman tried to clarify: “Though our long-term vision includes a proposed copyright length of 14 years, we have no plans to implement this in the near future.”
That’s not very reassuring, as “near future” sounds as ominous as the alleged proposal itself. Either way, the cause for concern is real. As we suggested earlier, please take a look at Tim Parks’s essay on why copyright matters:
What we are talking about . . . is preventing other people from making money from my work without paying me a tribute, because my work belongs to me. It’s mine. What we are talking about is ownership and control. The law, as it now stands, concedes that I own what I write and hence have the right to keep track of every copy of the book I have published and to demand a percentage of the sale price. This right is the same whether I sell two hundred copies of the book at a local newsstand over some years, or twenty million over five continents in eighteen months.
Wah-Ming Chang was the managing editor of Melville House.