Authors are protesting against a Green Party proposal to reduce the length of copyright terms to a maximum of 14 years.
The UK copyright term is currently set at the life of the author plus 70 years, but in the "Intellectual Property" section of a policy statement the Green Party says it wants to “expand the area of cultural activity, that is ways that culture can be consumed and shared, reduce the role of the market and encourage smaller and more local cultural enterprise”.
The EC1010 proposals would not only reduce copyright terms but also legalise peer-to-peer copying where it is not done as a business and make it impossible to patent broad software and cultural ideas. The Green Party also said introduction of a “citizen’s income” would allow more people to participate in cultural creation.
Many authors are horrified by the proposals and illustrator Viviane Schwarz said on Twitter they would “severely limit financial prospects of the profession” and that “if people can freely use art that’s still fresh, they’ll commission less new stuff. It would be stock art with a vengeance”.
Author and illustrator Sarah McIntyre tweeted that author earnings would suffer. “I've already been illustrating longer than 14 years. Fourteen is nothing. It's so hard even to get into earning royalties.” She also suggested big corporations would benefit from the new rulings by waiting 14 years before adapting someone’s copyright, therefore not having to pay. “Disney could adapt my work before I'm even into royalties”, she said.
Samantha Shannon tweeted: “I think I'm especially angry about this Green policy because I now have even less idea who to vote for. I only know who I'm not voting for.”
However, some children’s authors are less concerned about the proposals. Piers Torday said on that Twitter they would never come into being because of the “UK electoral system” and “international treaties”, while Matt Haig tweeted: “To be fair, I'd still vote Green. I'd prefer to save the planet than save some 14-year-old royalties.”
A Green Party spokesperson told The Bookseller: “Our manifesto for the next parliament says we would ‘make copyright shorter in length, fair and flexible, and prevent patents applying to software’. We would consult with copyright holders and the general public to establish an appropriate length, but believe copyright terms should be shorter than they are at present in order to reduce restrictions on our shared cultural heritage. Though our long-term vision includes a proposed copyright length of 14 years, we have no plans to implement this in the near future.”
The Society of Authors commented: "Our stance is that copyright needs strengthening, not weakening. Authors and other creators make their livelihood from their intellectual creations and a period of only 14 years would not allow them to fully benefit from their work. In practice it is likely to mean that once the period expires large corporations will pick up the work and continue to develop, license and exploit it without rewarding the creator.
"With authors' earnings already far below the national average, such a proposal would mean that authors could not survive. We believe that all political parties should back a strong copyright regime which supports innovation and provides economic benefits, and in which authors are paid fairly for their work. Copyright protections are currently also under threat in the European Union and we urge everyone to sign the Federation of European Publishers' petition, here."
Publishers Association chief executive Richard Mollet commented: “There is a disconnect in the Green Party's claims that its policy is for fair copyright and it then telling authors that they can only earn royalties for 14 years. The proposal would pretty much destroy every creative business model in the UK as a copyright term of such short length would undermine investment. We are glad that the mainstream political parties take a more supportive role of the creative economy in their manifestos”.