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Copyright Casino

Money and art.

Reuben and I when out for a walk this morning and it started to rain, very
lightly. We were on our way to the playground in the park and I wondered
whether we should head back for shelter or continue on. So I asked the
popcorn vender, who, for the past ten years has been out in the weather all
summer long. He told me not to worry, the water was smooth and the flags
were flying to the north-east; this was only a small shower that would pass.
We continued on our way to the playground.

We passed a newspaper box where I glanced at a headline mentioning the name
of a lawyer that I used to know. The story talked about his role as a
fund-raiser for a political party. I had known him as a real estate
conveyancing lawyer.

As we continued on, we saw a First Nations man down on the beach carving a
figure of a bear out of a piece of stone. Reuben and I went down to look at
a few finished pieces he had on display and watch him work the stone with a
small file.

Stone, files, hands, time. Where, I wondered, does the idea of copyright fit
into this picture?

Then I thought again about the lawyer/fundraiser and his land titles and the
landlords and mortgage companies that he represented and I thought of the
three kinds of income: wages, profits and rent. The first two are income
earned for doing something. The third is income earned for owning something.

Copyright is a way of asserting that the value artists produce comes not
primarily from what they DO -- the time they spend learning and applying
their skill -- but from what they OWN -- an "original idea". The income to
the artist for their originality is a kind of rent.

What difference does this make? Alongside real estate, art is small
potatoes. "Intellectual property" is intellectual only in passing; it's
legal status comes from designating it as _property_. Artists don't make the
copyright rules and artists don't enforce them.

Copyright is basically a casino for artists, run by landlords and lawyers,
and policed by landlords and lawyers. The house takes by far the largest
portion of the winnings. And what is left over is divided up partly on the
basis of skill, largely on the basis of luck, and sometimes on the basis of
entering the game with a large enough stake.

Copyright violation may be likened to cheating at cards. Just because the
house is raking in a huge cut off the top, doesn't justify cheating one's
fellow players. But to what extent does pedantic attention to the rules of
the game distract from questions about who makes the rules, who benefits and
whether this kind of game is true or beautiful?

What is the value of one of those stone bears carved by the man on the
beach? For me it would be that man, sitting on the log, his confident hands
shaping a stone into a semblance of something it isn't -- a bear; and into
something it is -- a repository of his humanness and of time.

Tom Walker, knoW Ware Communications
tel (604)688-8296
      "Only in mediocre art does life unfold as fate."
           - Michael Ignatieff

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