Who owns the field?

Back in November Deborah Windsor, (Executive Director of The Writers' Union of Canada) and John Degen (Executive Director of the Professional Writers Association of Canada) wrote a letter to the editor of the Hill Times in response to an article penned by Michael Geist in the previous issue.

The part of this letter that really bothered me was the very last sentence. "In all the arguments about large corporate interests at war with consumers on the field of copyright, it is often forgotten that creators own the field." This, in a nut shell, exemplifies the core philosophical differences between John Degen and myself.

John and Deborah declare that the field belongs to the creators. Presumably they are inferring that all the creative works over which the rules of copyright are being argued belong to them, the creators. But they are wrong.

Using their analogy, I would argue that the field belongs to all of us. The field is our creative commons. It is our culture. As such when artists are back in the dressing room making their latest great work, that work undoubtedly belongs to them. But when they bring it out onto the field to share, society gets to claim some ownership of it. It becomes part of our culture. OUR culture.

Copyright rules crudely agree with this statement. Despite the insanely long term of copyright, copyright does still allow for that work to eventually move into the public domain. While a strict interpretation of copyright has this transfer happen in the blink of an eye on the evening if its expiration, I would argue that it is a gradual process that begins the moment the work is brought out to be shared. You can see this in how good works influence our language and how we see the world. You can see this in the other works it inspires from other artists. While the original artist should have some limited rights on remuneration from the original work, some rights also need to be guaranteed to the rest of us. We need guarantees that we as a society have the freedom to interpret and interact and contribute to our culture. That includes all works that have been placed within it. That freedom needs to be codified in copyright as very liberal and generous fair use rights.

The field does not belong to creators or anyone else. It belongs to all of us. Creators are players like the rest of us and they need to learn to share the ball so that we will all find the game that much more enjoyable.