This post was inspired by a TorrentFreak comment thread earlier this week. But it could have been inspired by any number of interactions I’ve had over the years as an artist with a political opinion. It’s been said a hundred times, but I say it again because it keeps needing to be said:
Artists can make up their own minds on copyright.
This isn’t some new, untested theory. But you must not be an artist if you question copyright! remains an all-to-common retort in the intellectual property debates. A person who creates art can’t possibly be a pirate, so the saying goes. And a pirate (actually, forget pirate, in some circles it’s enough just to bring up copyright reform, let alone actual piracy), or a supporter of free culture can’t possibly be a creator.
Saying that artists can’t make up their own minds on the topic is dismissive in the extreme. Pretending that we are unable to hold opinions that may or may not agree with the industry perspective, or with each other, is also blatantly false. See the recent displays of opinion-having by Hollywood folks as well as the Pirates-with-a-capital-P or pirate-with-a-lowercase-p who make or made music or writing their business.
But I’m more worried about the dismissive attitude we aim at creators.
Artists have opinions. Sometimes, even their own.
The first time I ever heard of copyright reform (and it was a very tame reference to curtailing the length of IP protections) I didn’t like it. I had the negative reaction that the entertainment industries tell me I”m supposed to have. Ok, maybe not the vitriolic knee-jerk they hoped for. But I gave the idea a solid Well-thats-a-bit-extreme brush off.
Over the years, I developed my opinions on the subject in the normal ways human beings develop opinions on things. I read up, followed the news, hunted down facts, listened to others’ experiences, and paid close attention to my own budding experiences in the creative world. I was lucky enough to be allowed to pursue information in relative peace and quiet – it was the quiet before the storm in the ebook world, and afterwards it wasn’t until I had opinions that I faced the vitriol of those who I disagreed with.
My opinions are not static. They may be wrong. They may change. They may disappear, expand, reverse, or veer off into some yet-undiscovered direction. But that’s the human capacity for making decisions at work. Denying artists’ ability to come to their own conclusions is of no benefit to anyone, least of all the artists themselves. Neither is pretending that any deviation from the default industry narratives is tantamount to treason or indictment of ones’ status as an creator in the first place.
People will always find a reason to tell you that your opinion doesn’t matter.
As a newbie writer, you’re told that you’re new and naive. You don’t know how things work around here. Never mind the ten years you spent writing stories, dreaming about going pro, and googling how to get published, you just can’t understand. You might be lucky enough to pass the first level, become successful, very successful, or even just happily midlist with a platform to speak from…… but you’re too comfortable! You’ve found your creative niche, your struggle is over. You just can’t understand. And god forbid you really succeed and get to superstar status. Then you just really can’t get it. You can’t have opinions while rolling around on your bed of money. You just don’t understand.
There will always be a reason.
There will always be a reason that, no matter your level or position within the creative community, you don’t get to have an opinion – that is, if it’s not approved by your industry. There will always be a reason that – forget the facts – you just don’t get it. If you did get it, you wouldn’t dare to differ on this topic that affects you.
But artists do have opinions.
Do you think we need more ways to support musicians, writers, filmmakers, and other artists? Great! Me too, let’s talk about that. Do you think fair use, parody protections, and safe harbor policy is working? Let’s talk about that, too. How about term limits, format-shifting, paywalled torrents, and…
There’s a lot to talk about. There are even more opinions to be formed.
So let’s talk.
Because if we don’t, the lawmakers and lobbyist will do it for us. And leaving our creative work in the hands of a bunch of stuffy old rich white dudes behind closed doors is a really scary thought.
It’ll take some work.
I know – I’m not that good at it. Talking. I can be obnoxious. Confrontational. Prone to passionately unedited wall-o-text rants. My high school English teacher even put it in my college “recommendation” letters. (Not the wall of text thing. The thing about being confrontational, or something like that.) And that sucks. It’s something I need to work on. I don’t think aggression is useful unless you’re squashing spiders. Instead, I want to emulate those who argue with grace, empathy, and creativity.
So I’m extending an olive branch.
This olive branch goes out to all others creators just as capable of making their own opinions.
And know that the people you’re talking to, creators or not, are human beings with the capacity to hear you and make up their own mind. And we can both keep saying – a thousand times over, if need be, because it is worth it – that creators can have opinions – opinions, plural – on copyright and the issues that affect us. And we do.