Copyright… it’s a funny old game!

Still the Pinterest argument continues. I notice one blog I used to follow is now no longer. That’s a shame, because it was a good blog, but to be honest, if you’re that fussy about people sharing your stuff, it’s not a good idea to put pictures of it on the internet and do things to encourage people to visit your site! I guess the owner decided that she didn’t want to share.

It just all makes me laugh. Copyright? It’s a right minefield is what it is, especially where the internet is concerned! I like all the barrack-room lawyers coming out of the wood-work to express an opinion and be all smug about how noble they are for not using this pinterest anymore (most of them, by the way, had an account themselves before realising their own stuff was on there and someone else told them they should be bothered about copyright). Copyright is something I know about on account of having written textbooks, which often use materials from other sources. Jeremy Clarkson wanted £5,000 to grant us the right to copy 100 words of text. He’s not worth it, so I went with the ever-so-kind Boris Johnson instead who gave us his stuff for nothing. When you are working for a gigantic publisher and using other sources, be they print or image, then you constantly ask yourself: ‘will we get copyright for this?’

And do you know what irks me?

It’s usually ‘yes, for a price.’

So rather than publishing in an educational text book about the English language for free, inspiring the nation’s youth, they’re fussing over whether you’ll give them £1,000 or £5,000 and grubbing for money. The richer they are, the more they grub for it.

To be honest, I feel about pinterest as I felt about those people who wouldn’t give us their stuff for free: really? Your ideas/words/images are really THAT good that you want money to be included in a book for use in a classroom? I wrote the whole damn book and got £2,000 for the privilege and was happy to do it, and you want £5,000 for 100 words because you’re famous?! I think I’ll go with Boris, who writes better than you anyway, you money-grubbing whore. You’re richer than Croesus and yet you begrudge 5,000 editions of 100 words in a textbook about language?!

I like that copyright only existed when the printing press was invented. That troublesome printing press. Maybe we should have smashed them all. Look where it’s led us! 500 years and WOMEN ARE POSTING PICTURES THEY LIKE ON A VIRTUAL SCRAPBOOK… mankind is doomed! Society is obviously on the brink of collapse the way some people are going on about pinterest and copyright.

But I’m totally on board with the original rules. Copyright was invented to stop poor copies being run off and sold on the cheap. Good old Queen Anne’s government decided that things couldn’t be copied because “Printers, Booksellers, and other Persons, have of late frequently taken the Liberty of Printing… Books, and other Writings, without the Consent of the Authors…to their very great Detriment, and too often to the Ruin of them and their Families:..”

I hold by that. If you copy stuff and it’s rubbish and it also ‘ruins’ the person who made it in the first place and they have to eat baked beans whilst you’re eating roast pork, then that’s not fair. But is pinterest ruining people’s lives?! The embroidery blog I followed… was it ruining her life that 20 women had linked to one of her images? Was she eating baked beans whilst those 20 women made a fortune selling cheap knock-offs? We’re hardly talking Lacoste copies, are we now?

Plus, the rules are silly and unclear in this internet age. Some countries, like Australia and the UK have complete copyright automatically. You do in the USA too, and lots of other countries, but if you sue and you didn’t have a © and the date, you might not get as much in damages. Some countries have no copyright laws. The internet throws a bigger spanner in the works. I could write or draw or photograph in one country with robust copyright laws, but how does it hold up if the country the server is in doesn’t? Or the country that it’s being made in doesn’t?

But photography and the internet pose massive problems that haven’t really ever been resolved.

For instance: if I post things in certain places, I can fall into a trap of actually giving the material to the site who host it. Facebook are notoriously blamed for ‘owning’ any pictures or content you upload, but who of us checks our blog host, or our server to see what their policy is? Can you imagine if Facebook decided to ‘own’ everything that had been uploaded, all those pictures of drunken girls, girls doing trout pouts, girls wearing skirts so short their knickers were showing, or take your pictures of your children and sell them to catalogues – or, worse – paedophiles?! So this is why some people don’t upload their photos to Facebook, because they’re not clear about Facebook’s rules. The same with Flickr and Tumblr and all the others.

What happens if I take a photo of a thing? I own the photo, of course. Except do I? There is dispute over a self-portrait of a monkey. The monkey actually owns the copyright and if the image makes money, the monkey should get the money. So what if I like a picture on your blog and I photograph the computer screen?! Do I own it just as much as I do if I take a picture of Westminster? And Disney – the most notoriously strict copyright-upholders – if I take a picture of Minnie Mouse in Disneyland, and then I make that photograph into a bag that I am selling – I’ve taken the photograph, and I’ve made the bag, but Disney don’t see it that way. They see that I’m making money from something they’ve made. And I am. They say it’s ‘derivative’. It’s a knock-off. I feel like that about a lot of music. And art. And buildings. And clothes. And furniture. And literature. And television. Maybe there should be more suing than there already is? Disney lead the way on this (despite the fact that they get LOADS of dosh from stealing Charles Perrault’s stories. That’s okay though… he’s not around to sue) Hypocrisy much?

But does this work with a London bus, for instance? It’s a ubiquitous symbol of London that makes LOADS of money. But someone made that shape and presumably, I’m not allowed to just copy it and make a bus and call it a London Bus and make money from it?


Things ‘run out’ of copyright (which is why I only publish poems that are out of copyright) but then I know in my poetry GCSE books, in order to write about the poems, I have to restrict myself to ‘fair’ usage and not quote too much of the poem. That’s a problem. If a poem is published as part of a book, does this mean I can use 5% of the book, or only 5% of the poem? 5% is the English ‘fair use’ percentage. But I’m writing in France. Is my book therefore French? Is copyright different here? I sell it on Amazon UK, FR, ES, IT and COM. Does this mean the book might be legal in some countries and abusive in others?!


What if I take that book on my kindle and read it in a country where it contravenes copyright?! Will the thought police come and arrest me?

Personally, I like to remember that Gutenberg, that Tim Berners-Lee, gave us methods of mass communication and made very little themselves. Maybe, with patents and copyright and trademarks, they could have been the Bill Gates’s of the world and made an awful lot of money. There’s a nobility in sharing – Gutenberg was, according to the best free resource of all, Wikipedia, ‘financially unsuccessful in his lifetime’. Many of life’s best inventions have been collaborations in universities or academies and have been given to the people for free. Computers, the internet, the world wide web, all freebies. Sir Tim Berners-Lee (shares my surname, therefore cool) is a professor. Professors are well known for their riches. By all rights, TimBL should be living in a golden palace drinking 10,000€ bottles of cognac and feeding his dogs on Kobe beef.

And yet small-minded, mealy-mouthed people who don’t mind making a living off freebies themselves are then getting all agitated about something that amounts to little more than other people looking at their stuff – and – shock horror! – maybe – maybe! even visiting their website for a look.

I like Banksy’s view of things. Banksy, if you don’t know, and if you are alive, you’ll know, is an ‘anonymous’ graffiti artist. I like that people try to work out who he is, like it’s important. On his website, he says this:

“Banksy does not make photo canvases, mugs, wall stickers, greeting cards or T shirts.

Please feel free to

– Copy any Banksy imagery in any way for any kind of personal amusement

– Make your own Banksy merchandise for non-commercial purposes

– Pretend you drew it yourself for art homework”

Please do not

– Put up signs saying ‘strictly no photographs’ when all you do is sell photographs of my graffiti

– Take images off my website and ‘license’ them for a huge fee to a fucking German calendar company.”

Well said, that man.

So, feel free to copy my stuff, borrow my stuff, link or not link, but if you use it and you make more money than me from it, cast a few pence in my direction to make up for it, I beg you!

Do not feel free to copy and sell stuff I try to sell. You’ll know I’m trying to sell it because it’s not instantly and obviously available (i.e. it’s a book on Amazon) and it has a price next to it. If you steal that, that’s just stealing the food right out of my mouth. You might as well come round here and take the food from my fridge. I’m sure most people are sensible enough to know the difference. And, if you get rich from selling one of my ideas, then good luck to you. You’re obviously a better salesperson than I. Maybe you might be magnanimous to share a little of your success in return for this thievery?

So overall, I’m with Queen Anne and Banksy on this. If you share, fine. If you make a profit at my expense, not fine. I’ll rain down seven types of pointy reckonings upon you, one way or another.


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