Today’s blog post is full of more dangerous ideas than usual…

  1. K in fact comes after I in the alphabet
  2. I am Scottish and in no way an insecure English girl using local lingo as a feeble gimmick
  3. We might not need copyright?

To hear more about the last one, join Smita Kheria for her show ‘No Copyright, No Problem?‘ on the 19th August.

Who should ken about copyright?

Anyone who pursues creative endeavours or is a patron or consumer of art. Creators and consumers, professionals and amateurs, rights holders and pirates, are all invited!

At the largest arts festival in the world, the Edinburgh Fringe-goer will see many artists and enjoy lots of creativity. But it also presents an opportune moment for them to ‘go boldly’ where Fringe-goers haven’t gone before and find out whether copyright matters to artists, creativity, and society, or could we live without it.

What do you ken about copyright? 

I have been studying the role of copyright for several years now as a socio-legal scholar, and have been investigating whether copyright continues to play a useful role in creative practices in the ‘real world’. But I have been thinking about the role of copyright for an even longer time, actually since I was a student full time, and moonlighting as an amateur DJ – which involved listening to lots of music and also ripping music off my friends’ CDs (ie infringing copyright).

Over various research projects, I have interviewed writers, illustrators, comic book artists, visual artists, performers, researchers, and participants in online communities. I have also carried out ethnographic work at art and literary festivals. In fact, my CoDI show is inspired by fieldwork I conducted at the Edinburgh Festivals in 2014 and 2015. In these projects, I have been examining if copyright can, or in fact does, play an important role in the lives of creative practitioners and assessing the nature of the various controversies, myths, and misunderstandings that have built around copyright.

Why should people ken about copyright (would it be no problem if there was no copyright)?

Although we mightn’t often think about it, copyright is ubiquitous. In fact, it intersects with our lives on a daily basis. Copyright protected materials are everywhere. We are constantly creating and consuming copyright protected content.

Whether or not you are a professional content creator or producer, you are still likely to be regularly engaging with copyright protected content: listening to songs on Spotify, watching videos on Youtube, taking photographs to share on Instagram, reposting a funny cartoon or meme you found online on Facebook.

Sometimes, copyright might also be the reason why you are unable to access content – think of the last time you were on Youtube and were informed that the video you wanted to watch is blocked on copyright grounds. The examples are endless (and they are not limited to the digital environment).

If you are a professional content creator or producer then you will be routinely dealing with copyright in the various contracts and agreements you enter into (not as simple as it sounds); and might also be trying to enforce your copyright when you find that your work is being copied or exploited without your permission (this is challenging and complex too); and doing all this while you are still trying to earn a living, and turning down offers to work for free (or even better, exposure).

While copyright is everywhere, it is also more controversial today than it has ever been. The very ability to easily create, edit, and share copyright content has raised questions about the role of copyright: Do we need copyright when it poses restrictions on this process of creation and sharing? Do content creators really benefit from copyright? Is copyright just for large corporations? Is it an unjust monopoly?

Can you make me ken why your idea is dangerous?

A cursory look at popular media demonstrates that not only is copyright protection highly controversial, but also an issue that sometimes polarises opinion – almost like Marmite, some people love copyright or hate copyright!

My idea is dangerous because it delves into the question of what would happen if there was no copyright, and relatedly, whether or not copyright currently has a positive role in today’s post-digital society.

Let’s imagine a society where we have gotten rid of copyright, with all its complexities and controversies. Dumping copyright might, on the surface, sound like a good idea, but the idea actually carries dangers with it because copyright protects both creative works and underpins the livelihoods that many creators successfully derive from their works.

If copyright disappeared, would we all really be able to ‘freely’ download and share all the content we like (e.g. Game of Thrones episodes, Harry Potter books, and Ed Sheeran songs)? Or, would other restrictions perhaps replace said copyright law and be even less desirable? What would such restrictions look like? Additionally, without copyright, would artists continue to create content and pursue financially sustainable creative lives? Would a sufficient number of artists continue to create so that we can continue enjoying reading, watching, listening to new creative content? And if so, what kind of artists will they be?

Perhaps most dangerously of all, without copyright protecting creators and their works, will large corporations like Google benefit more as they will be able to scoop up mountains of “free” content that they can then monetise?