Green Party naive on copyright

To describe someone as green can be either to say they are ecologically aware or desperately naive. The Green Party's copyright policy displays none of the former - there being no provable link between the length of copyright and the health of the planet - but plenty of the latter.

The Green Party manifesto (EC203) states their desire to devolve economic power to the lowest appropriate level to make people less vulnerable to economic decisions made by distant entities; but they also wish to introduce a centrally paid citizen's income for all, which implies the opposite, as the recipients of this income will be utterly dependent on a monolithic economic entity in the form of the state.

This fundamental contradiction at the very heart of Green thinking (to use the term in its broadest possible sense) is worth bearing in mind when looking at copyright in particular, because the lack of logic is familiar. The policy cites their desire to "reduce the role of the market and encourage smaller and more local cultural enterprise". Again we are left scratching our heads as to what will replace the market. Do the Greens envisage some sort of local government intervention to develop books and music? If so they don't say so. Or do they envisage the market being replaced by a new thing, which is neither private nor public but somewhere in between. I suspect they do but it is a shame they don't describe it. I suspect they can't.

There is a similar absence of rigour or sense when it comes to the specific point of reducing copyright term to 14 years. There is apparently a line of reasoning - alas, again left to the imagination - which says that if an author can only exclusively earn royalties for 14 years there will be more cultural output. Perhaps the idea is that writers will have to write a lot more so that they always have a work in copyright. No more lazily retiring on the proceeds of one big hit! The thought must also presumably be that publishers, instead of being able to subsidise the investment in new writers through royalties on the back lists of others, will invest even more in their live and emerging writers.

But the real kicker is that the Greens sincerely believe that cultural productivity will be expanded if peer to peer copying is legalised, meaning that the ability of any creator to earn money will be severely curtailed. In a Green world that's seen as fine (money being the source of most evil of course), but it may seem less fine to the person who has to make a choice between writing for a living and doing something else.

Happily we do not have to pay a great deal of attention to this proposal, and the main parties manifestos each articulate a powerfully supportive view of the role of intellectual property in driving the (real) economy. But now and again it is useful to be confronted with the polar opposite of your position just to feel comfortable in one's assumptions.
 



Richard Mollet is c.e.o. of The Publishers Association