By Derek Strahan

One of Australia 's mainstream newspapers is the Sydney Morning Herald. This paper, as its title suggests, is based in Sydney, which is the major city in the Australian state of New South Wales, so named firstly because it is called after Wales, after one of the previously independent countries which now form part of the United Kingdom, an area which in no respect this easternmost State of Australia resembles. Secondly it is so named because it lies a considerable distance South of Wales, and thirdly because, having been named many centuries after its northern namesake, it can safely be deemed to be a newer version of Wales (in the South).

I subscribe to The Sydney Morning Herald and read it with interest every day. I am therefore in a position to aver that its journalists consistently display a great deal of interest in the lives, activities and opinions of individual performing artists, but much less interest in the lives, activities and opinions of individual creative artists, except occasionally in the context of a particular event. The following letter was not published, and I post an emended version of it here as an opening shot across the bows in what promises to be further interesting discourses on the subject of further reform of legislation surrounding artistic copyright. I have included the name and date of the article which elicited my response, in case any reader wishes to look it up on the Sydney Morning Herald's website.

I wrote: I refer to the review by economist Peter Martin in which he assesses the impact of extending copyright in intellectual property from 50 to 70 years after the death of the creator of a work. I take issue with a particular point that he makes, and which is implicit in the article header. (“The FTA clause that stifles creativity” SMH, Wed. April 14). He seems to assume that creators are motivated in their work by the promise of posthumous earnings. He entirely misses the point. Copyright was established in 1886 at the Berne Convention as a matter of social justice, to raise creators from the status of serfs, who do not own the land they till, to that of all other property owners, who have the right to bequeath estate to descendants. If laws of copyright now need further reform it is neither in the area of payment of copyright, nor in the control of estate by descendants, but rather it is in the area of non-payment of fees by publishers for works in the public domain. At present all creators compete with the dead for performance and publishing opportunity, The obligation on publishers to pay them copyright fees renders their work less competitive thus placing them at a serious commercial disadvantage vis-a-vis their deceased colleagues, whose earning prospects become ever brighter, the more dead they become.

As a matter of urgency, therefore, in my opinion, FTA agreements should include a clause requiring payment of a levy on all work in the public domain equal to the copyright fee. Moneys raised by this means should go into national funds to commission new works. It is the absence of such a clause which “stifles creativity” (through lack of funding while alive), not the posthumous extension of copyright (promising yet more funding for whatever period after death).

As an economist, Mr. Martin would surely have appreciated the appositeness of my proposal, had he had the opportunity to read it, which was denied him since the newspaper which saw fit to publish his article, with its disgraceful imputation on creative artists, did not see fit to publish my repudiation of his slur.

All rights reserved Copyright © 2004 Derek Strahan

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