Harris attacks writing 'mystique'

Harris attacks writing 'mystique'

Novelist Joanne Harris has attacked the "mystique built around being a writer" as being one of reasons why people think they can infringe writers' copyright and download their work for free.

Speaking at a debate sponsored by the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) at the House of Commons yesterday (8th July), Harris said: "Authors should go into schools and let them [young people] understand  that we have children and mortgages, and that writing is a real job that real people do."

Harris was debating "A fair deal for authors", alongside poet Wendy Cope, Publishers Association chief executive Richard Mollet and  Richard Hooper, director of the Copyright Hub. The debate marked the launch of research commissioned by the ALCS which found that typical author earnings dropped to £11,000 in 2013.

Introducing the HoC debate, ALCS Board chair Adam Singer revealed that 83% of the 2,454 respondents to the survey were over 45, noting: "A group of under-44s may be making a living from new forms of distribution that don't turn up in surveys."

Cope and Harris both focused on the lack of awareness among copyright infringers using the internet, with Cope saying: "Copyright goes on too long, and it alienates people - 25 years after death is long enough. There is nothing else wrong with the law, but it isn't enforced. My poems are all over the internet and I'm sure it affects my sales. People say, 'I liked your poem so much I copied it for all my friends.'"  

Harris urged authors to go into schools and spread the message to pupils, as well as saying her presence on social media had helped her educate her readers. "On Twitter I interact with writers and readers all over the world. It's very interesting and it's done more good [in educating people] than anything else I've done." She also said that any message about the value of art needed to come "from the top", with the government "broadcasting its belief in the value of art – valuing libraries, literature and creativity - and understanding how valuable art is at every level of life."  

Mollet commented that it was "astonishing that the government is trying to push through a law to stop people claiming back compensation for copyright", while Hooper urged that there be "no more tinkering with copyright", asking: "Why don't we have a rest for a few years?"

The issue of fair contracts for authors was raised by both Cope and Harris, with Cope commenting: "Europe said creators get worse contracts in this country than anywhere else. Contracts have altered a lot in the last 30 years; authors with agents are fine, but many don't have agents." Harris said: "It would be helpful if we had a document of fair practice outlining what a fair contract was. Authors are not terribly worldly people."

However Mollet commented that law exists already to prevent unfair contracts, saying it was the responsibility of authors' agents to strike the best deal.