by Nathan T. Dean
"Make your work as accessible as humanly possible, or you are merely adding to the right-wing belief that artists are nothing more than squabbling hobbyists with broken moral compasses."
What the border is to the immigrant, copyright is to the idea.
This has been a key phrase I’ve started using to try and explain my copyleft, open-source philosophy around my writing, but I feel this heavy-handed line both (a) supports an ongoing toxic narrative around immigration and (b) fails to accurately describe, without context, why I feel copyright (and our general views of the arts) are so harmful.
Before I continue, it must be stated that the world has greater ills to cure – both literally and figuratively – before we tackle, perhaps, the very nature of the author. We need more Baldwins and Ash Sarkars before we need more Roland Barthes — but there are still parallels between the violent injustices that people suffer every day, and that of how we treat the very idea of “the idea” itself.
"copyright is a product of a preposterous culture, invented from a place of good intent but easily warped in purpose by those in power"
Let it be known however, that the physical distress must be solved first before the mental or the social: if our freethinkers are being suffocated, there is no point freeing their ideas.
The crux of the matter is that copyright denies people the right to share ideas as freely as they are created; if every time I quote a Beatles song I have to pay Paul McCartney, or if every time I want to sample them for a musical track, or depict him in my short film, I’d need the financial and legal clout to support my decisions artistically; this essentially gatekeeps the arts to those in the upper echelons; elitists like J. K. Rowling who purport the marketplace of ideas is being cancelled whilst using their legal acumen to silence the voices calling out transphobia.
This goes beyond the plights we face as protesters, as ‘identity politicians’ (to use the term crudely): if only those with money can play with ideas, then we only get those ideas. Haruki Murakami, perhaps presciently, stated “if you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking” and we are predominantly reading the work of fascists.
But copyright is a product of this preposterous culture, invented from a place of good intent but easily warped in purpose by those in power. This is down to two ideologies that dominate how we view ‘the artist’.
The first, which I shall call ‘The Conservative Position’, is that artists should be paid. I tentatively, call it The Conservative Position, because it is focused around finances and arts capitalism (see: Larry Gagosian), but the name does lean towards abusing the working classes. But bear with me.
The Conservative Position purports that all artists deserve payment to the point where they can survive from their art, because the arts should be treated like any other profession. The artist, like the plumber, has a specific set of skills that others do not have, and thus to be paid anything other than a living wage is tantamount to a hate crime. This is, of course, especially valuable to the working class artist who may starve if they do not sell that commission, or self-published book.
But let us imagine a scenario: you go to the cinema to see a film, and pay not just for the ticket to see the film, but also to enter the cinema itself. You would decry this as capitalism at its most heinous, to pay to enter the building, as well as see the film itself. But the internet, even when you are the working class writer publishing on gumroad as a pay-what you-feel download (me), are gatekeeping with this very model.
You are not to blame for the model but when you have to pay to enter the cinema (internet provider) and then purchase the art work because you deserve to be paid (the film) you are merely adding to the greatest error within copyright, ownership, and payment—those without the dosh can’t access ideas.
The second, which I shall call ‘The Labour Position’, is that everyone is an artist, and to say that only some are artists (see: Larry Gagosian) is to once again gatekeep the potential for the artist. Artists do this to each other as well; how many times at the open mic does one poet tell another they aren’t ‘really’ a poet (also me, I apologise)?
"Not everyone can buy a Jeff Koons balloon dog. Not everyone can use VantaBlack™."
How many times has the guitarist without a recording studio been told they are not really a musician? The Labour Position states “everyone is an artist” and “all art is political.” “Arts for art's sake” is the lazy mantra of the futurist, the right-wing artist (yes, they exist). If everyone is an artist, everyone can supply work to the ongoing narrative; everyone’s voice is heard.
But the combination of these two ideas – which are not shared by just the enemy, the right, but by the left as well – creates a cognitive dissonance that causes more harm than good. If we propose everyone is an artist, then it creates an environment of the hobbyist. The plumber, having a particular set of skills, is paid because he can provide something to society that others cannot; the artist, if everyone is indeed one, is not providing something specific any longer.
They are merely doing what ‘nature intended’; they are merely acting on ‘the human condition’, and no lefty in their right mind would agree to start charging people for their god-given abilities, right? But at the same time, if we say that only certain people are artists, then we have to (a) create the necessary instrument to determine