MARTHA THOMASES: Copyrights … and Copywrongs
Last week, ComicMix, along with most of the Internet, protested against SOPA and PIPA, two bills that would have seriously compromised our ability to use the web to share information … and gossip … and pictures of cats.
The protests were so widespread that Congress backed down and sent the bills back to committee. It was a victory for those of us who spend all day enthralled by our computer screens, and, more important, it was a victory for the free exchange of ideas.
Still, I can understand the motivation behind the bill, despite how crudely and ham-handedly it was written. The purpose was to protect intellectual property. As a writer, I enjoy getting paid for my work. It would make me grumpy if someone else made money from my efforts and didn’t include me in the payday.
If anything, this hubbub shines a light on our wonky and unfair copyright laws. The purpose of copyright is not only to protect the rights of creators, but also to encourage creativity in a capitalist system. If my writing can make me money, I’ll be encouraged to write more. The same is true for songwriters, artists, choreographers, filmmakers, and comic book crews.
Unfortunately, our particular version of the capitalist system doesn’t work that way.
Songwriters, for example, collect royalties from those who record (and then sell) their songs. In many, many cases, they are not able to get their work published without giving away a large percentage (usually as a co-writing credit) to the publisher. As a result, a lot of musicians don’t care if their work gets downloaded illegally, because it increases their audience and they can make more money – which they don’t have to share – on tour.
On a larger scale, this is true in movies and television. We’ve all heard the stories about actors, directors or screenwriters who supposedly have profit participation in their films, but the studios claim there are no profits.
In comics, at least in so-called mainstream comics, the price for a chance to work for a company that would distribute your creation was your copyright. The most famous example is Siegel and Shuster’s Superman. Things have improved, and if you work for Marvel or DC as a creator, you can now get health insurance and a contract (so you can get a mortgage), but you will still most likely have to agree to work for hire.
The major media corporations try to defend their anti-piracy efforts by saying they are protecting creative people. If only. As Kyle Baker recently explained, the entertainment conglomerates treat creative people as interchangeable widgets. If one artist wants a living wage, ship the job overseas.
The Internet should make it easier for artists to communicate directly with their audiences, without paying the toll of working for a Disney or a Murdoch. It should level the playing field for all entrants.
It should also reduce the price of an admission ticket. Just ask Louis CK.
SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman