Copyright – a beginners guide

I was disturbed today at The National Campaign for the Arts hustings in Project Arts Centre that NONE of the politicians could answer a simple question on copyright, and further disturbed by some one on one conversations afterwards. So here’s a guide to a policy action that costs government nothing and is worth millions to ALL artists.

  • If I build a house and you need to use it I can:
  • Let you live there free of charge if I wish.
  • I can rent it to you
  • I can sell it to you at a price we agree on.

There are some things you cannot do

  • If I let you live there free of charge you cannot claim its your house and ask me to leave
  • You dont get to set the rent, you can’t stop paying the rent, you can’t claim the house is yours, and you can’t sublet it at a higher rate.
  • You dont get to set the purchase price of the house.

All of the above makes sense, because a house is property and it has an original owner.

Well here’s the thing: creating a painting, a statue, a poem, a book, a composition, a performance or any creative output is the exact same as building a house. The artist is the original owner and creator of that property.

Here are some things an artist can do with their property.

  • I can assign it to somebody else free of charge. However, if that person starts to make money by renting it or selling it on, I am entitled to an equitable share of that.
  • I can license it (rent it) on agreed terms to somebody else. These terms are percentage based (the more money a person I rent it to makes, the more I make) and bound by time and territory.
  • I can – should I wish – sell my rights, but I get to set the price and that price needs to reflect an equitable share of future earnings.

At ALL times the artwork – whatever it may be – remains the propery of its creator. At no time can anybody demand that I sell, at no time can anybody resell without sharing with me, at no time can anybody claim it is theirs and at no time can anybody profit from, or in any way use, my work without my permission and without an agreed reimbursement.

Its simple. You wouldn’t let somebody tell you that your house is worth a fiver, sell it to them and then watch as they rented it out for three grand a month.

The idea of artist’s copyright goes back at least to the Florentine glassblowers of the 15th century. Artist’s copyright – including that of performers – is enshrined in our own Copyright Act and in multiple international treaties. It is the bedrock of the creative industries model, it was worth over €10bn internationally in 2018 (up 0.9% on 2018, and up 25.4% on 2014, and a 29% growth in digital income on 2018) and yet very few Irish Artists are aware of their copyrights, legislators drag their heels on it, agencies seem indifferent to it and several parties systematically abuse those rights, impacting on the livilihoods of artists and the health and independence of the sector.

If I sell a painting for a €100 and its sold on for €150 then I’m entitled to a share of the sale; if I write a song then I’m entitled to a payment every time its performed, recorded, sold, streamed or downloaded; if I create a performance in a film then I’m entitled to a share of all sales of that film and so on. What you create is your property. Own it.