Making copyright work for creatives

Years ago I held the obscure title of Spokesperson on Intellectual Property for the Green Party. With the fuss yesterday about our policy on copyright, and the strong likelihood of some attempt to change that policy at our autumn conference, I’ve tried to reach back into that part of my brain to explain some of the thinking behind shortening copyright terms.

This blog is rather long, but it really just scratches the surface of the debate around copyright. For a much more succinct take on this, read Caroline Lucas’ blog.

My intention here isn’t to set out a strong argument for one particular policy, but rather to introduce the curious to the debate, and inform party members who might want to bring a change forward in the autumn conference.

I should also like to note that I used to earn a living from journalism, co-ran a community arts project, and have artists and writers in my family and friendships, so I have some understanding of the “real world” of copyright.

We’ve been here before, of course

The policy that has caused so much concern sits in our Policies for a Sustainable Society, a long-term vision drawn up by our members. Back in 2009 we drew heated criticism from scientists and science journalists for some of the policies in this long-term vision. It was an embarrassment.

In response, we kicked off a two year review process. I sat in some of the early workshops, as members developed consensus around the best way to fix the problems and express our core principles. You can read more about that process in this blog for the Campaign for Science and Engineering.

I’m hoping this fuss will kick off a similar, if smaller, process to review our approach to copyright. If you’re a Green Party member or supporter and you’re concerned, then get involved!

If you find what I have to say interesting then follow the links and read up on the free culture movement.

Green Party vision vs manifestos

I’ll begin with a major confusion between our manifesto for the next five years and our long-term vision.

Our long-term vision, called the Policies for a Sustainable Society, is developed by members, democratically, at our twice-yearly conferences. Our manifestos then interpret the broad framework this provides, to set out a radical programme for the election at hand – in this case, what we would do in the next five years.

Our long-term vision

The current long-term policy on copyright seeks a “balance… between ensuring that there is adequate funding and incentive for innovation for socially and environmentally valuable activity and encouraging the widest possible sharing of these rights, which are public goods.” It continues that “on cultural products (literature, music, film, paintings etc), our general policy is to expand the area of cultural activity, that is ways that culture can be consumed, produced, and shared, reduce the role of the market and encourage smaller and more local cultural enterprise.”

We want more creativity, more people able to spend time reading, visiting art galleries, sketching what they see, creating parody pop songs, and so on. In a less materialistic world, the arts become incredibly important – how much better for people to spend their evenings composing silly songs on the guitar, or their afternoons working on their paintings, than stuck in second and third jobs that do nothing for their well-being or that of society?

That’s the big picture.

The vision then goes on to propose “generally shorter copyright terms, with a usual maximum of 14 years”. By this, we mean that rather than the current maximum of 70 years after the creator’s death, it should only be 14 years after their death. Unfortunately, as written, this appears a bit ambiguous and has caused confusion, so it needs clearing up!

Our manifesto for this election

Our manifesto, which is the basis for my campaign for Parliament, says we would “make copyright shorter in length, fair and flexible”.

We are setting copyright law in a much broader approach to the arts. Our manifesto pledges to increase arts funding by £500 million a year, reduce VAT for live performances and tourism to 5%, stop regulations stifling small live performances in pubs, and bring in a 35 hour week to generally give more people the free time to create.

We would consult with copyright holders and the general public to establish an appropriate length, and in any case would need to abide for the moment by numerous international agreements. For example:

  • EU copyright law, which specifies life plus 70 years for literary and artistic works in Directive 2006/116/EC Article 1(1)
  • The Berne Convention, which specifies life plus 50 years in most cases, 50 years after publication for anonymous or pseudonymous works, 50 years after release for audiovisual works, and 25 years after creation for applied art and photography

Why do we have copyright?

The law around copyright has been described, with good reason, as “of diabolical complexity and obscurity”. It is probably the least understood, and most widely violated, area of law on our statute books.

Indeed with the rise of the internet meme, it is violated millions of times every minute.

As the terms mentioned in the Berne convention point above illustrate, the length of copyright terms already varies widely. The copyright on databases I create will last for just 15 years. The copyright on my photography of BedZED – from which I have earned some money – and my blog won’t expire until 70 years after my death.

What’s more, its interpretation – and philosophical basis – varies from country to country.

In the USA, they have something called “fair use” which allows comedians to parody copyrighted works, while in the UK we just have “fair dealing” which is much more restrictive and often sees parody, satire and criticism curtailed. The law was recently changed on this, but it is still – in my view – too restrictive.

In both the UK and the USA, copyright law is couched as a social contract, not a natural right. If it were a natural right, we would say creators have an inalienable right to stop people using, copying and “remixing” any work they create. But that’s not what our copyright law does. Instead, the social contract recognises that we will get more interesting paintings and films and novels if we give the creators a time-limited monopoly over their work, so they can charge for it. The length of copyright is supposed to be just long enough to promote the arts, but not too long because we want to be able to use, copy and re-interpret their work freely as soon as we can.

In countries like France, where the legal and philosophical basis emerged from thinkers like Hegel, they base this social contract on a stronger moral claim for the author to the expression of their will. This leads them to give authors protection for their “moral rights”, for example to stop a sculpture you have sold from being exhibited in the entrance lobby of a right-wing organisation. We have a much more limited form of moral rights in the UK, and many countries don’t recognise these at all.

If you’re interested in the philosophical arguments, you might like to read my Masters dissertation from 2006 discussing interpretations of Locke’s theory of property and the free culture movement, and this article by William Fisher.

It’s no surprise, then, that many of the emotive and moral arguments about copyright make claims that lie outside the reach of UK law, or that confuse what copyright is really about.

As an author, in the UK, you are not deemed to have a natural right to earn a living from your writing, or to stop Nigel Farage from using your photography. Instead, we have agreed as a society to give you time-limited rights in return for the extra creativity we think this will support. That’s the crux of the question – is the length of copyright striking the right balance?

The Mickey Mouse rule

Copyright was established by the Statute of Anne in 1709, with a length of 14 years after your work is created, with the possibility of getting a 14 year extension. Since then it has been lengthened, incrementally, so that it now provides rights for the quite amazing length of 70 years after the death of the creator for many types of work.

Coincidentally, that’s not far off the age of Mickey Mouse’s creator.

Here’s the US copyright terms via this blog which you can read for more on the subject:


In short, each time Disney’s copyright on Mickey Mouse looked at risk of expiring, the US Congress extended the copyright term! Despite opponents arguing that the Sonny Bono Act would hinder the progress of science and the arts – the constitutional basis for copyright – the corporate lobbyists won the day. You can read more about this story in this excellent Washington Post article.

The result is that anybody trying to parody Mickey Mouse, or create works that are in some loose sense inspired by and therefore derived from that work, has to pay royalties, or wait for many more years to pass until the copyright expires.

Copyright stifles this creativity, on the understanding that without life plus 70 years of protection, Disney couldn’t function. Which is rubbish, of course.

This is why Caroline Lucas wrote that “many creators are in a stranglehold from our copyright laws, which see big corporation control the rights to work”.

The benefits and harms of copyright terms

Obviously there is huge diversity among creative people who earn money using copyright. It’s over-simplistic and insulting to suggest this is just about massive companies like Disney.

In music, most academic studies have shown that income from copyright overwhelmingly goes to a very small number of creative people. For example, this analysis of musicians’ royalties found that 95% of British musicians in 1996 were earning less than £1,420 per year from their copyright, and only 2.4% of German composers/songwriters could live off their creative output.

Most copyright income is also earned in the earlier years. Of course, some writers will still get a bit of money decades after publication, but they are still small in number and we have to balance their claim to that income against the loss to society of them retaining a monopoly over the work.

What is this loss? Put simply, it is further creativity. As these academics argue:

All authors, artists, and composers make use of the public domain in creating new works. Current composers rely on themes, concepts, and even actual melodies from classical or folk traditions, but eventually their music too will enter the public domain so that future composers can make further use of their contributions. When Disney makes a delightful animated film out of Snow White or Beauty and the Beast, the studio is not creating these works from scratch but rather is relying on old folk tales, on which the copyrights long ago expired. In turn, the Disney films themselves will eventually be available for reworking by other creative artists.

When I co-ran a community arts project called Remix Reading I realised that most art being created in Reading was routinely violating copyright already, just under the radar. Without copyright violations we probably wouldn’t have hip hop or Warhol’s soup cans, the Milifandom and Ed Balls memes couldn’t exist, and YouTube would be a boring desert.

We only notice ‘innocent’ copyright violations when – for example – Marvin Gaye’s family won an absurd case against Pharrell Williams for the cheek of using a similar bass line. As Pharrell said,

The verdict handicaps any creator out there who is making something that might be inspired by something else.

This applies to fashion, music, design … anything. If we lose our freedom to be inspired, we’re going to look up one day and the entertainment industry as we know it will be frozen in litigation. This is about protecting the intellectual rights of people who have ideas.

This led me, long ago, to think that copyright lengths are too long and too strict. It’s what makes me think our manifesto is absolutely right to say they should be “shorter in length, fair and flexible”.

If you’re interested in this argument, have a read of Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig. You can download the whole book for free, and then go on to explore the free culture movement.

So what should copyright look like?

There are many ways that you could reform copyright to be shorter, fairer and more flexible.

At the radical end of the spectrum, some call for it to be scrapped altogether. Others say it should be much, much shorter – just long enough to get optimal returns for society. The campaigner and academic Rufus Pollock published some research in 2007 and 2009 suggesting that the optimal length for copyright would be 15 years, taking us more or less back to the Statute of Anne in 1709!

The Creative Commons movement, which I used to be very involved with, has developed clever modifications of copyright to allow you – for example – to freely copy and ‘remix’ works, but requiring you to then arrange payment if you want to make some commercial use. That provides fairness and flexibility.

You might also ask, should we adopt a ‘moral rights’ approach similar to that in countries like France? Is copyright a social contract, something to balance public and private interests? Or should we treat copyright more like a natural right?

Don’t like it? Join and change it!

Unlike most other political parties, the long-term vision on copyright that kicked this all off is open to revision by our membership.

I’m certain that a change will now be brought to our conference as a result of this debate. That’s good politics – something was agreed years ago, now it is being scrutinised and debated, and it will probably be changed as a result in September.

If you’re a writer, musician or filmmaker and have got to the bottom of this long blog, I hope I have persuaded you of two things: first, we place a high value on the arts and want to get copyright policy right; and second, we are open to and enjoy debate, and would like you to join us and help us develop the best possible approach to copyright.


  1. Most copyright income is also earned in the earlier years. Of course, some writers will still get a bit of money decades after publication, but they are still small in number

    I don’t buy this. It might have been true a few years ago, but over the last couple of years, increasing numbers of writers have been self-publishing their back-catalogues in order to supplement the falling incomes from publishing new material. This has become a normal part of a writer’s life, and it is something that allows them to continue to make a living.

    Writers make very, very little from their work, and the amount is decreasing. By restricting copyright terms so severely, you will be making writing as anything other than a hobby or an activity for the independently wealthy or those with a patron pretty much impossible. Now, you and others may (or may not) see the disappearance of the professional writer to be replaced by the amateur as a good thing. I do not. I would love to encourage people to write for their own fun and wellbeing, but not at the expense of those who dedicate their lives to creating great art (or entertainment). The Green Party policy seems only to be interested in the amateurs. That’s why so many professional or semi-professional writers, musicians, and artists of other types have taken against this so badly.

    This is why Caroline Lucas wrote that “many creators are in a stranglehold from our copyright laws, which see big corporation control the rights to work”.

    Whatever the reason for the increase in copyright terms, I do not see how I, as a writer, am in some kind of stranglehold from a big corporation. I’m not. My copyright prevents big corporations from exploiting my work without my permission. Green policy seems designed to shift the balance of power from me to corporations.

    24th April 2015
    • tomchance said:

      Thanks for the comment, Patrick. My understanding of the economics of creative writers may be a bit out of date, I haven’t worked/read in this area for quite some time now. But as our policy is to shorten it to 14 years after your death, I don’t think it need have the impact you are suggesting.

      On the point about individual creators vs corporations, again we won’t change this. But what if you wanted to write a parody of Jurassic Park? I recall a story about a film maker who got shortlisted at Cannes, but couldn’t release his film because a radio was on in the background and it constituted a copyright violation. It would be a big help to individual creators trying to scratch a living if it was a little more flexible, to protect his film in distribution – and musicians songs in the same way – but to allow him to have some background incidental music without that constituting a copyright violation, or making it simpler to arrange the licensing to secure distribution.

      24th April 2015
      • I don’t see anywhere in our policy that says shorten it to life plus fourteen years. The policy just says copyright terms of fourteen years. It is either badly written or someone is misreading.

        That aside, the research being quoted as a basis for a fourteen year term is extremely out of date, based on assumptions and lacks data. If we intend to use evidence as a basis, that will require independent research, not theories based on poor research and poor assumptions.

        The Green Party would be far better off simply saying that we will investigate copyright terms while being committed to protecting creators incomes and maintaining their moral rights. We can then talk about things like parody, sampling, fair use and the like and also look at ways in which the falling incomes of many creatives can be addressed. Creative fields are changing really fast at the moment, and setting any particular term right now will inevitably lead to our policies being outdated just as fast.

        24th April 2015
        • Andrew said:

          Patrick. Are you even listening to what Tom is saying in response? I understand people being concerned. I was too on initially seeing the policy, but equally saw that its effect seemed so incongruous with the general tenor of Green party policy that it is clearly a matter of wording. A mistake. We all do it. But importantly a mistake that the party has been open about and has clearly addressed.

          I wish on other policies (you know, the really big stuff) the other parties could behave in an equally open and straightforward manner.

          Perhaps we are so conditioned to untruth from politicians that we simply refuse now to accept when something has actually been honestly addressed?

          And that’s unfortunate. But give these guys a chance. Don’t hold them to an impossible standard and berate genuine mistakes which are honestly addressed. Because you’re never going to find perfection I’m afraid.

          24th April 2015
          • I did, Andrew, and he said a lot of interesting stuff. But the fact remains that the policy says what it says, and what it says is not what Caroline and Tom say it is meant to say. One way or another, it is saying the wrong thing.

            I also think that, if what Tom is saying is what the policy is truly what it is supposed to be, it just seems a weirdly random number to have picked. Why life plus fourteen?

            Over on the facebook group, we are discussing ways to improve this policy. Please do come and join that discussion.

            24th April 2015
          • Trev said:

            But Andrew, is it clearly just a mistake, a matter of wording? I’ve heard it put by Greens that the policy is to have copyright at 14 years after death, and others say it’s from 14 years after the artwork is first copyrighted…

            And I can’t see any benefit in the arguments put forward by Tom which seem to agitate for the copyright terms to be cut down. So it doesn’t seem it’s just a wording issue: it seems the Greens want something I think is foolish and harmful. Seems to me like they’re in fact defending a bad policy.

            24th April 2015
          • viv said:

            I have not heard a clear statement that the policy is a mistake from Tom, only Caroline. 14 years after death is still wrong.
            What I read here from Tom is still deeply disturbing. as he appears to be justifying the policy. I am 63 and although I have sold paintings during my life, I have just started publishing ebooks, as an illustrator and author, unlike some I do not see a maximum,14 years after my death to be a long time away. The first two years have only just began to get the books recognised and I expect to continue building up my reputation to share and hand over to my creative children. Copyright is the only thing protecting my work. This feels like using my heart for a transplant without my permission after my death. Yes I do believe that it is my work. The French have it right. Since many people still don’t have a kindle fire app to read with yet, I know I am creating work for the future. Ebooks might not take off, be used regularly in schools until long after my death yet I hope my books will be there for people to enjoy. If this policy gets in I fear they won’t be protected. This is not about the money this is about my right to give a contribution to society, my legacy. If everyone gets a piece of it there can no longer be a collection of work. Creativity just dissipates into a superficial haze without clarity, or uniqueness, no individual style or quality. I am lost for words to make you understand how devastating your ideas are to a creative artist.

            25th April 2015
    • Tim Bird said:

      You won’t increase access to arts and make people read more by tinkering with copyright laws. Your emphasis needs to be more on safeguarding the rights of the creative people behind the arts.

      25th April 2015
  2. Thank you for taking time to write this, when I know you also have another full-time job. It’s the most coherent and informed response I’ve seen so far.

    I still think 14 years is FAR too short, but I would be more comfortable with Lifetime + 14 years, which would let me earn from what I’d made, and if I have any dependents, help them get on their feet after I die before having to work out their own arrangements. 14 years by itself doesn’t take into consideration work that is published over time and collected into retrospective publications. It’s a tiny amount of time for a film company to wait before pouncing and developing something with no pay, credit to or input from the creator. It took me about 14 years to even earn a royalty payment worth mentioning and there’s a chance I might want to go back and develop characters and stories that have been working well over the last 14 years. But under the 14-year limit, I’d be losing control of them about now. I put a lot of time and thought into developing them – time I could have spent earning money in another job – and it seems unjust for someone to be able to bypass all that development time and merchandise my work.

    I don’t have a problem with parody work, and hashing out guidelines about what is parody and what is direct rip-off is complicated but worth doing. We can have parody, quotation and small sampling without giving away full copyright too early. Going from Lifetime +70 years to just 14 years is far too great a leap and will cripple creative people trying to make a living in the publishing industry (which is what I know the most about) and most likely in music, fine art and other fields. It’s also not a wise tactical move since these people make up a good percentage of the Green Party base and potential voters.

    I stand by the Society of Authors’ statement yesterday, “We believe that all political parties should back a strong copyright regime which supports innovation and provides economic benefits, and in which authors are paid fairly for their work.” I’m by no means an expert, but people can contact the Society of Authors (@Soc_of_Authors) if they have more in-depth questions about existing law.

    24th April 2015
  3. I am a long time supporter and participant in the arts – I have earnt from creative photography, writing and am a mentor for Arts Emergancy, a great charity that is attempting to tackle the difficulties arts students face with their graduate ambitions.

    I am also a Green Party member as of last week.

    I have slavishly supported the UK’s long copyright laws, held them up as a bastion of good will to people who rely on their creative endeavours to provide for their families now and for the future. When I saw the proposals regarding the shortening of the laws my knee jerk reaction was that of confusion and indignation. It was an attack on creativity. Why would the Green Party do this?

    The more I read and think however the more I can see this is not really the case. Artists are a territorial bunch. If you ask an artist for help or tutition you will get enthusiasm sure, but you will also tend to get story’s of how difficult the industry is, warnings of other people, pitfalls and the inevitable decline of whatever industry you are enquiring about. Financially it can be tough being an artist and just like I did, other people will see this policy as a threat to their livelihood.

    Except in all honesty it’s probably not, if you have a creative business that can realistically expect copyright income 50 years from now for work you are doing today you probably aren’t in too bad a shape. Copyright can stifle inspiration and can be used by large corporations to ring fence work long after its sell by date just waiting to be reinvigorated.

    The more I consider the opportunities a change in law would bring the more I warm to the whole concept so long as there are always adequate safe guards for artists regarding the distribution of their work while the copyright is still valid.

    Thank you for this article, I still have some reservations but you article has made it clear that it isn’t a reactionary position, and your reasoning is quite considered.

    24th April 2015
  4. Bel Fegore said:

    Dear Tom,

    I am extremely disappointed with your response to what has been laid out in the Green Party policy proposals ( This adds to previous misleading declaration by Caroline Lucas. I find it shows a real lack of interest and understanding in what copyright is. I can think of three points that bother me right now.

    1. Again, as in the Lucas knee-jerk response, no mention is made of the effect copyright has on ordinary people, who upload photos and other media to Facebook and Twitter who are just as affected by changes to copyright. Family photos, blogposts, many uploaded by children and teens. We are all creators now. And it also hides the real amazing beauty of copyright: It is not just given to corporations, it is given to any individual who creates an original work of art. It gives everybody power and control over their creations.

    2. The absolutely misleading use of ‘monopoly’. Would you say a house-seller is using his monopoly to exert a particular price for the house he is selling? Is a worker using the monopoly to his arms and legs to gain employment? Of course not. Songwriters have no monopoly on songs, it’s a highly competitive marketplace and there are millions competing for the same opportunities. Please don’t use this term, artists are constantly told that copyright gives them a monopoly. It’s a dumb use of the word. It is even more hurtful for songwriters who have to give up control of their music as soon as they join PRS, which has to sell the rights to their music to any media organisation.

    3. “many creators are in a stranglehold from our copyright laws, which see big corporation control the rights to work”. This again is foolish on its own. Creators depend on lengthy copyright guarantees because it is a bargaining chip for them to get corporations to pay for their productions. Who is gonna pay for a music production (which may need an investment of thousands of pounds) and pay the creator unless the creator has the copyright for a long time? Corporations are necessary to bring big production online, on stage, with promotion and other ways of bringing the work to the public. That the Greens fail to point that out tells me that they don’t know how culture works. Labels have been much maligned, but even now we, as artists, can not alone produce every bit of music in our bedrooms, run social media campaigns, print posters, hire auditoriums. And the thing is, labels, just like publishers and other corporate institutions, invest at least some of their profits back into culture.

    All the lack of real insight and understanding in your party is depressing enough. But your published policy, long-term or not, has hurt creatives who every day find themselves having to justify a simple right to benefit from the work they put in, upfront, without any guarantee to be adequately paid. It’s even tougher than a zero hour contract, because you work first, find out if you are paid later.

    14 years what? Caroline Lucas says she “understand it that’s 14 years after the creator dies, not 14 years from the point at which their work is first copyrighted”–not very reassuring. You are saying it needs clearing up. It is still on the web site though, and as you said the proposals are “developed by members, democratically, at our twice-yearly conferences”. So when do you think it will be amended on the web site? This sounds as if it takes ages. All through this time people will look it up and assume it is a fair representation of Greens policy.

    After questioning your 14 years statement on Twitter, Green party supporter haggled me for being ‘selfish’ and accused me of putting my own benefit before the environment. None of the statements of either Lucas or yourself help much with that. We are told there is something wrong with copyright, creators hamper new works (the very people who actually produce new works), there is a lot of animosity stoked by people who basically think that piracy is fair, that it’s immoral to charge for art, music and literature. I had the dubious pleasure of having Green party sympasizers telling me that I should not worry about a copyright cut in length from lifetime + 70 to just 14 years because the Greens would give me a ‘citizens salary’ of £70 a week. It’s insane.

    It’s ok to push it back out at creatives to come up with proposals for you to use, take the above as my input, but to be fair, if you are a party that wants to be taken seriously you must be able to avoid at least basic mistakes like the policy blooper and stop thinking you are just a voice for consumers of culture and taking creatives for granted.

    24th April 2015
    • tomchance said:

      Bel, thanks for the comment, and I’m sorry to read that you are so upset by this. But I think you are being very unfair, both on me and the party. In my blog I talk about all manner of creative activity, including my own journalism, blogs and photography, and about twitter memes, YouTube videos, musicians, painters and so on.

      I also address this straw man claim that we think copyright only benefits corporations. We don’t. We just think some aspects of the current set-up give corporations a strangehold, and that it is they who have led the charge for the extension in length to an unreasonable amount of time after the death of the creator.

      On our process, it may seem slow but it is democratic. Unlike other parties, our leader Natalie Bennett cannot just decide on the hoof to change our policy. It has to be done by members, with time for debate online leading up to a conference where it can go through workshops and onto the conference floor for debate and voting. There is no rush, anyway, because nowhere in our manifesto do we specify any length, we just say that if elected and if the issue arose in Parliament, Green MPs would try to make it shorter, fairer and more flexible. We would obviously consult with creators and constituents in deciding what line we should then take.

      24th April 2015
      • Andrew said:

        Hear! Hear!

        Thank you Tom.

        24th April 2015
      • Bel Fegore said:

        You don’t need to console me for being upset, it would help if you could answer the points I made, which you don’t seem to.

        I am a bit concerned to hear that we don’t have to worry about the proposals you publish on the web under your party’s banner. They are meaningless then?

        How long will it be before the info gets changed, if at all? I am not sure it was a mistake.

        I have got an idea where the 14 years come from: Ars Technica attributed that number of years to copyright in reference to the same Rufus Pollock you are mentioning. And he clearly demands 14 years, *not* life + 14 years.

        That is another indication to me that you are not exactly sure what your party’s position is and that this is all basically a damage limitation exercise. Which is fair enough, you would get the same from the Tories or Labour.

        I wish you good luck, but would advise any creative to be weary of your aims and attitudes to their work.

        24th April 2015
        • tomchance said:

          Hi Bel, again I think you’re being unfair. I addressed many of your points in my reply. On the point about Rufous Pollock’s research, I believe it it was published *after* we adopted that policy so it was not the basis of our position. Besides which, his research suggested 15 years, not 14.

          24th April 2015
        • Bel, I am a strong critic of this policy, but I do think you’re being unfair on Tom here. He has said that the only way to change the policy on the website is through a democratic process. Neither he nor anyone else can just choose to delete it. Personally, I don’t think this gigantic policy document that is almost impossible to keep up-to-date is a good idea, but it is what it is.

          At the next Green Party conference, it is likely that a motion will be debated to change this policy completely, and that is a good thing. But there’s nothing Tom can do about it until then.

          24th April 2015
          • Bel Fegore said:

            Hi Patrick,

            thanks for your contributions here and elsewhere.

            Please don’t get me wrong, I am sure that Tom is truly concerned about the policies and his heart is in the right place.

            But the fact remains that we only found out about the procedure of change that is required after demanding to know when it would be amended.

            Caroline Lucas never made any reference to the process and gave the impression that the 14 year length of copyright was just a mistake. That was also the impression that I gained when I read Tom’s response the first time.

            It turns out, neither of them has the power to change it or can with confidence say that it was a mistake.
            Nobody knows who wrote it, what evidence it was based on, and it may have been written as long as ten years ago or more, without anyone in the Green party noticing or questioning it, including Tom, who was their Spokesperson on Intellectual Property! That is still quite a shocking revelation.

            We can not just laugh it off and move on, it is our duty to hold political parties to account for what they publish as policies, whether it’s the Greens or Labour, whether it is long-term or short term and whether it is in their manifesto or not. It is not the first time that a draconian policy is withdrawn so that the people rejoice when a slightly less draconian policy is revealed.

            Having said that, I appreciate Tom taking the time in this busy period to answer the questions posed here.

            24th April 2015
  5. 14 years is nothing and this seems like a further attack on creators ever decreasing income streams.My work and the income it generates is already taxed and the copy rights I own, should fairly go to my family.
    If I owned a house and left it to my family and 15 years after my death it was taken away, would that not seem grossly unfair?
    There are many laws and agreements in place that PRS and Mcps have spent decades and vast sums of money organising, to dismantle these would be not only be a logistical night mare you would have to spend millions and re write laws and agreements in hundreds of countries around the world plus spend decades on very costly legal cases in courts around the globe.The greens have shot themselves in the foot with this one and this comes across as extremely ill thought out and naive.

    24th April 2015
  6. David Arnold said:


    From my dealing with fellow creatives who rely on copyright to make a living…The mood is that unless you make a definite change to the wording and intent about all this pretty quickly…it’ll cost you a fair amount of votes on May 7th….it’s certainly put off a lot of people I know who were considering voting green.

    24th April 2015
    • tomchance said:

      Hi David,

      I’m afraid we are bound by our constitution, which only allows changes at conferences. We’re not like other parties, we cannot just change things on the hoof, and it’s difficult to draw the line between a minor textual amendment and something quite sneaky and major. So all changes go to conference to be agreed by members.

      I just hope that people concerned about this issue with reflect on mine and Caroline’s blogs, and the wider set of policies we are putting forward, and decide whether they believe in our manifesto more than other parties. I completely respect anybody who feels this is such a fundamental issue, one that cannot wait a few months to be changed/clarified by the proper process, that it swings their vote.


      24th April 2015
    • David, as Tom has said, it’s not possible to change the wording before the election. However, there is a facebook group (a href=””> that is looking at ways to rewrite the policy, and we would welcome input.

      24th April 2015
      • Trev said:

        Thanks for your patience and replies, Patrick.

        What do you make of this from Tom? (Or, Tom, by all means, you might come in here yourself.)

        “I completely respect anybody who feels this is such a fundamental issue, one that cannot wait a few months to be changed/clarified by the proper process, that it swings their vote.”

        At present, though, I can’t say I have much idea what Tom (or the Greens, generally) think on the issue. So, you think I should vote for you, wait till it’s changed, and then (possibly) you shore up the meaning in the kind of way that’s driving artists mad? In Tom’s blog, he seems to be making an argument for something which I don’t agree with anyway: it’s utterly wrongheaded and not well informed. Caroline Lucas said something vague on the specifics of copyright, and then lots of nice things after that about artists…

        Why should I trust you guys to get it right later?

        24th April 2015
        • All I can say is that the policy change I am arguing for is that we should omit entirely the stuff about fourteen years and peer-to-peer sharing and instead replace it with a commitment to holding an open-minded enquiry on copyright law and how it affects the income of creators, with the presumption that we would want to protect the income and rights of the creators of the work.

          Most people discussing this so far seem to be in agreement (although not everyone), so I hope some kind of motion on these lines will end up being put to the conference in the autumn. Will it be passed? I have no idea. But there is a lot of dissatisfaction in the Green Party about this policy, so I can’t imagine that no change at all will happen.

          Because there is no way of actually knowing how it will turn out, I would suggest you raise it with your local candidate and get them to commit to not supporting anything that would reduce the income and rights of creators of art works.

          24th April 2015
          • Trev said:

            Thanks, Patrick. Appreciate it.

            24th April 2015
  7. Mark Davyd said:

    This is a very good article, thanks. Can you perhaps shed some light on how the Greens similarly became committed in the same policy area as “legalising peer to peer sharing” because that language is just as awful and allied to the copyright lack of clarity is basically an intervention to imagine no copyright protection at all.

    24th April 2015
    • tomchance said:

      Hi Mark,

      I agree, and will support efforts to remove that line.


      24th April 2015
  8. Phil Groom said:

    Thanks for this Tom, much appreciated. So, if you’re right, if what the policy document statement means is 14 years after the artist/writer’s death, how about somebody updates the policy document to that effect, please? And does so now, not in 6 months time — because if you are right, it doesn’t need a vote at conference, it just needs rewriting. That way we eliminate the uncertainty, this whole business is dealt with and it stops costing us the goodwill and potential votes of the creative community, myself included — I say this as a party member who is feeling increasingly frustrated and disillusioned by this folly on the party’s part!

    Here’s my proposed rewording:
    b. introduce generally shorter copyright terms, with a usual maximum of 14 years after the originator’s death
    And here’s my challenge to you and the party’s hierarchy: give me one good reason why that wording shouldn’t be adopted immediately.

    24th April 2015
    • tomchance said:


      As I have said on Twitter and above in reply to another comment, our constitution doesn’t permit it. The change will have to go to our conference.


      24th April 2015
      • Phil Groom said:

        Not good enough Tom. If you’re right about your interpretation, this needs correcting now — a constitution that prevents such a simple amendment, correcting what party representatives appear to be acknowledging as an error, isn’t fit for purpose. Either you’re right and the wording needs correcting or you’re wrong and it stands.

        24th April 2015
      • Phil Groom said:

        Next question: if every amendment has to go through conference, how come we’re looking at a document that’s flagged: “Last amendment March 2015″??

        24th April 2015
        • tomchance said:

          We have conferences twice a year, and the last one was in March. Some other part of that chapter must have been amended.

          24th April 2015
          • Phil Groom said:

            Fair enough. Then, as I’ve proposed in the facebook group, let’s:

            EITHER (1) update the policy document as follows:
            “b. introduce generally shorter copyright terms, with a usual maximum of 14 years after the originator’s death”
            … with a footnote or note alongside the para to explain why we’ve done so, citing it as an emergency response with an election on the horizon;

            OR (2) post an OFFICIAL clarification statement on the party website which is linked to/from the policy document.

            The current situation, in which we have Telegraph Books citing a party spokesperson as saying it’s 14 years period from creation date and you & Caroline​ saying in personal blog posts that it’s 14 years after the originator’s death simply isn’t good enough: it’s unprofessional, messy and undermines not only party member morale but our prospects in the election.

            We can debate the fine details (whether it’s 14 years or whatever) at our leisure; but if you & Caroline are correct and the policy is 14 years after the originator’s death, that needs to be OFFICIALLY spelt out NOW because it’s costing us goodwill and votes NOW.

            25th April 2015
      • David Davis said:

        I don’t get this at all. You insist the policy means “14 years after the creator’s death”, but you say you “can’t change the policy”. If you are CORRECTING it to say what it is meant to say, than you are NOT changing the *policy*. You’re just correcting a typographical error.
        And please can you do it without further delay, because as a Musicians Union, PRS, MCPS, PPL member and Green voter, I was dismayed and gobsmacked when I read it.

        26th April 2015
        • tomchance said:

          Hi David,

          The position is that the policy is poorly drafted, leading to confusion; it means life plus 14 years; and we can’t improve the drafting, or indeed change it, until the September conference.


          26th April 2015
  9. Charles Oppenheim said:

    I very much approve of Tom’ piece and his commitment that the party will rethink its policy on this asap. The important message to get out is that this is not a manifesto commitment, and that the policy will be reviewed shortly. I think life + 14 years is unrealistic because we would have to then derogate from the Berne Convention, and would be the only major country in the world not to be party to it. That in turn would require all sorts of individual negotiations with other countries, and the EU, to get reciprocal protection agreed. I am in favour of, as a firs step, reducing the lifetime to life + 50 years where EU rules permit and still be in compliance with Berne, and then to argue the case within the EU for further progress. As both a copyright consultant and party member, I would be very happy to advise on these matters at any stage.

    24th April 2015
  10. Trev said:

    Hi, Tom,

    Thanks for taking the time to engage with this whole copyright dealio.

    It’s still unclear to me, though, is whether you mean copyright expires 14 years after the artist’s death, or 14 years from the beginning of the term of copyright. Green Party members have themselves made contradictory claims. Caroline Lucas’ extremely vague statement on the matter has been directly contradicted today by a spokesperson, has it not?

    Bel, above, brings up corporations and how copyright protects artists from them; Bel also says that you seem inordinately concerned with the smashing of corporations’ stranglehold on ideas, stories and concepts. You, Tom, then say that it’s a strawman claim to say the Greens believe copyright only benefits corporations. Can’t you see why people would naturally believe this (as opposed to constructing strawmen, which is in itself an unseemly dig at Bel) might be the case? In your blog, you talk about corporations A LOT. And you use Disney and its ‘monopoly’ on Mickey Mouse and certains film to illustrate your claims. Meanwhile, ‘ordinary’ professional artists (many of whom are your prospective supporters, unlike Walt Disney’s ghost) will be sitting reading this thinking, ‘What the hell is he on about? Copyright gives me control and ownership over the art I work incredibly hard to create.’

    This paragraph is hard to swallow:

    “Most copyright income is also earned in the earlier years. Of course, some writers will still get a bit of money decades after publication, but they are still small in number and we have to balance their claim to that income against the loss to society of them retaining a monopoly over the work.”

    It comes across as horribly arrogant and condescending. You’re talking about ME! Or you’re potentially talking about me. You’re talking about the ME I hope to be: that is, a writer who, given the fullness of time, after a few more novels, will be ‘successful’, whose art will still be considered relevant and which people will still gladly pay for. But you’re balancing this possible me’s ‘claim’ to income (on my OWN art!) against that of . . . who? Someone who likes my novel and wants to publish it themselves for their own profit with an awful cover, perhaps taking out the dedications I carefully chose, the people I thanked who helped me through the hard three or four year slog of the book’s writing? Or a film company who wants to make potentially hundreds of millions from a story they didn’t have to write? Or perhaps you’re aiming to turn writing into . . . a nice hobby that everyone can share in? Tell me how this works, exactly? Tell me how my novel being there for the taking (literally) will inspire new writers? I’ve managed just fine without having to lift sections directly from Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor, Colm Toibin and others . . . they INSPIRED me in the way that artists have always inspired other artists (and in the way they themselves were), simply by writing their beautiful works, which I then read and was moved by. Your ideas (we need to be able to copy and paste/sample/lift/steal/parody EXISTING works, in some direct way) seems to fit best with community workshops on one hand, and with giant hip-hop artists on the other. What about the vast, vast majority of people who will be affected by all of this: the artists who don’t earn a tonne of money, but who are professionals?

    This whole thing has been unedifying to say the least. On Twitter, for daring question Green thinking on this, I’ve had mad messages saying things like ‘many authors are extremely wealthy but plead poverty’. Others have said it’s like a mansion tax, but on writers (who are ‘greedy’ for wanting to keep ownership of their work and profits which it generates). Others have been mocking, saying, well, if you DON’T make much money, you must be a bad writer. I’m amazed by this horrible thinking: people performing mental gymnastics to defend a silly non-policy, and effectively insulting writers as a result. In that sense, this hasn’t been a welcome opening of debate on a previously arcane subject: your badly judged and misguided statements have given many the ‘proof’ they need to bash us greedy, lazy writers who should just go out an get a real job.

    PS. You may say that your idea is that copyright expires 14 years after death, but as I wrote above, that’s been directly contradicted by others in your party. And, in the paragraph I quoted above, you very clearly imply a hypothetical living author of the ‘rare’ kind who will still be earning money on a book after 14 years. So, there’s still little clarity here.

    PPS. I’m sympathetic to the Greens, and agree with you on many ideas. But I think you’ve got this completely wrong (‘strawman’ alert) as your policy ignores the people you (sometimes) claim you’re worried about: professional artists, and instead concentrates on Disney (at one end) and amateurs who (do these people really exist?) apparently want to be able to copy my novels and stories and use them for themselves without having to do much work, or pay any money at all.

    PPPS. You mentioned something about parodic films etc. The cinemas are stuffed with drivel which satirises/parodies huge blockbuster films already (Scary Movie 1, 2, 3… 1,267…). The vast majority of working, professional artists don’t want or need direct access to the work of other artists, so that we can use it ourselves: we access the art of earlier artists indirectly. That’s how it should be.

    24th April 2015
    • tomchance said:

      Hi Trev,

      Sorry, I don’t have time to respond fully to all your points, I’ve got to cook some dinner! But on one point, I really reject this idea that I only write about amateurs and Disney. I state that I’ve earned money from copyright on my writing and photos, my brother and his girlfriend are both “professional” artists, I’ve several friends who are published authors, and I’ve been involved with arts projects working with musicians, poets, authors, painters and more, of all kinds from amateur to commercially successful. I have a reasonable handle on the range of experiences of being a creative person, and how copyright is a help and hindrance.


      24th April 2015
      • Trev said:

        Thanks, Tom! And enjoy yer dinner!

        I still don’t fully understand who this is all aimed at though, Tom. What I can’t get my head around is this: who, exactly, NEEDS unfettered access to existing stories/songs/sentences etc, so that they can create their own art? Who are these people? As I said, they’re certainly not the 99% of professional artists, who don’t sample (musicians) or need direct lifts from stories, poems, novels etc (writers).

        Here’s where I stand: I don’t want to let these people, whoever they are, to ‘own’ my stuff. Nor do I want to be able to ‘own’ their stuff. Almost by definition, given the centuries old predilections, habits and established behaviour of artists, virtually NO professional artists need or want to be able to take directly from other artists. Artists are inspired by other artists (and by non-artists, too). This will always happen and rightly so. There’s no danger here. Art’s not going to ‘stop’ because of copyright.

        So who, exactly, are the beneficiaries of cuts to author/artist copyright? Here’s who I can think of:

        1) Disney and chums, who can produce anything they want based on my (I’ll use ‘my’, but I mean any artist) stuff. It’s irrelevant that in a copyright-less world anyone else can also produce anything based on the same story of mine that Disney used: I still get nothing. And Disney, being a huge company, will out muscle the smaller productions based on said work anyway.

        2) People who want to republish/resell my work for their own profit.

        3) Mythical ‘ordinary’ folk, otherwise held back in some arcane way, who can now become ‘artists’ because they can lift anything they want from my stuff. I have no idea how that is supposed to work. I come from a working class background, tough area, yadda yadda. Being able to ‘sample’ the opening of Blood Meridian in my ‘own’ novel would have made a positive difference in my life… how? Reading the book, however, made lots of difference: I loved it, and because of this and other books, I wanted to write, too.

        and, in music, 4) a limited cadre of people in very specific genres who want to sample other people’s work (at best), or, more likely, who just want to resell existing work for their own profit.

        Anyhoo, enough for now. I’m baffled by all this, and dispirited by the very-much spirited defence that this silly idea is receiving from the Green Party. Politics as usual, it seems.

        Thanks all the same though, Tom.

        24th April 2015
        • Kathryn Rose said:


          I write music. Specifically, I set poetry to music, usually choral. As I’m not much of a poet, this involves using other people’s words.

          As things stand, I cannot use any poetry written by someone who has not been dead since 1945. That’s 35 years before I was even born. Often (especially in the case of hymns), I can’t even trace the author to find out their death dates, because they only published one or two poems.

          My experience of asking estates, rights management agencies etc for permission to use the work of living or recently-deceased poets has been extremely negative: most don ‘t even reply to my e-mails. Perhaps it would be easier if I were famous, but I’m not.

          You bet I suffer from a stranglehold. It’s one of the main reasons I do release my own work under CC by-SA: I don’t want other people having to deal with this if I happen to get hit by a bus next week and someone wants to sing something I wrote.

          (Additionally, and this is not just aimed at you, Trev: I find it difficult to reconcile the “current copyright works for me!” attitude with the “we are struggling enough already!” attitude. It seems to me that if people were paid fairly for their work in the first instance, the royalties — or the hope of having them in the future — would matter a whole lot less.)

          24th April 2015
  11. Talis Kimberley-Fairbourn said:

    Thank you for this, Tom. I’ve been firefighting this on social media myself and while many of my creative friends (I am a songwriter myself and besides musicians, have many authors and artists in my acquaintance) are reassured by what I’ve said, others are furious. I think there is a disappointment that the greens aren’t perfect… And a lack of understanding how deeply democratic and, well, benign, the party is. I am telling folks that I will take a 90% policy approval, no party whip, and the opportunity as a member to change what I think needs changing, over what any other party offers. Creative microbiz are still reeling from the vatmoss mess, and not everyone is hearing measured responses like yours (and I hope mine). Please count me in for a review group if you are gathering volunteers. I’m keen to help.

    24th April 2015
  12. damien said:

    Currently the “Arts” industry is made of the celebrity minorites and then a lot of “Wannabes”, people who have little or no income from thier art.In relation to different trades this is grossly unfair and perhaps a reflection on capitialism?
    I have a real affinity with the way Germany gave both “Black Sabbath” and “The Beatles” residencies that allowed them to build their trade.And I would love to see this happen in the Uk. I would love to see this more than another talent show about the minority being given all of the pie,while hopefulls sing psuedo soul in the hope of a lottery win from the grossly self rightous judges. For many artists a living wage earned from their trade for 14 years would be of much more use than a 70+ year copywrite.

    24th April 2015
    • Trev said:

      ‘Wannabes’. Jesus!

      24th April 2015
  13. Sam Earle said:

    Thanks for the informative post, Tom.
    I haven’t read all the comments but I think it’s also worth pointing out that this policy should be considered in conjunction with other GP policies: the 35 hour week, and VAT reductions for performances, but also crucially the Basic Income, which would in effect mean that all artists, regardless of commercial success or orientation, would be less dependent on copyright royalties.

    Also, and EU Directive MUST be followed, so to reduce the length would have to be done at the European level, and is not something that a Green Gvt could just change anyway…. No?

    24th April 2015
  14. Joanna said:

    I’m truly disappointed by this copyright stance from the Greens. As an illustrator creating work for 21 years I’m appalled that you would look to loosen up copyright law in the way you’re suggesting. I’m hugely against Creative Commons too, that as far as I’m concerned adds to the idea that any professional work is up for grabs to be used in whatever way the end user sees fit with no fee to the original creator. This totally flies in the face of why artists create unique work. It’s a part of them and their view of the world. Throwing it out there for anyone to mess with is an infringement not just of law but of person. Awful, vague policy. I wanted to vote Green but now I’m thinking otherwise. My work is mine and Mickey Mouse was created by Walt Disney, so it’s his mouse. You really don’t understand how much people bastardising something you’ve lovingly created is an affront to artists.

    24th April 2015
  15. becky cooper said:

    Sorry but this is an awful policy and I’d like to know who proposed it, discussed it and voted on it! Which conference was this voted on at?
    I have many creative friends and paint myself.
    Many artists, writers, designers, musicians my be lucky to come up with one star piece in their life that brings in a regular income. To not be able to pass the copyright down to your family after your death seems crazy. As one poster said before they’d like to be able to leave a house to their family so why not copyright? 14 years is way too low! I have a friend that runs an animation company who has decided to vote Green, I’m not sure he would if he knew 14 years after his death his work could be ripped off, parodied, stolen etc.
    An awful policy. Name the people that proposed it and get them to explain it all.

    24th April 2015
    • tomchance said:


      Out of interest, why is life plus 14 years wrong, but the current policy which is up to life plus 70 years okay? Or would you change copyright to be permanent, so for example we would need to pay Shakespeare’s ancestors for every print run and production of his work?


      26th April 2015
  16. Just after this hit the headlines, up pops this lecture at Oxford University:

    Bellwether Lecture: Copyright, Culture, and Community in Virtual Worlds
    Professor Dan L. Burk

    We have accumulated an increasingly rich body of data concerning online communities, particularly those that share virtual environments. The on-line interactions of such communities are uniquely mediated by the audiovisual content of the software interface, which becomes a feature of shared culture. Much of this content is subject to copyright law, which confers on the copyright owner the legal right to prevent certain unauthorized uses of the content. Such exclusive rights impose a limiting factor on the development of communities that are situated around the interface content, as the rights, privileges, and exceptions associated with copyright generally tend to disregard the cultural significance of copyrighted content. Thus, the opportunity for on-line communities to legally access and manipulate the graphical elements on which their communities are built is frought with potential legal liability. Reconsideration of current copyright law would be required in order to accommodate the cohesion of on-line communities through cultural uses of copyrighted content.

    24th April 2015
  17. Rodney Hoffman said:

    You mean NOT “coincidentally, that’s not far off the age of Mickey Mouse’s creator.”

    25th April 2015
  18. Jon Sparks said:

    Thanks for this, there’s certainly some reassurance here.
    However I think you grossly overstate the case that copyright somehow stifles people’s right to be inspired. As a photographer, I’ve taken massive inspiration from other people’s works as seen in books, calendars, posters, galleries and exhibitions and in more recent times on the Internet. I don’t think copyright has ever got in the way of this.
    The weakening of copyright protection in recent ears, and the widespread casual disregard for copyright, impoverishes the people who actually create stuff while allowing others – including big corporations – to profit.

    25th April 2015
  19. Tony Sleep said:

    I wouldn’t worry too much. All political parties are incompetent where copyright is concerned. It is simply exhausting trying to get them to understand. I and many others have, since 2005, spent vast amounts of our unpaid- and unfunded-time participating in serial consultations pre- and post-Gowers. The work has all been done and ignored, and if the Greens aspired to have a clue, it’s all on the record in the archived and ignored evidence documents of Gowers, Lammy, Hargreaves etc. And published commentaries and critiques on all of it are easily Googled too. Research before policy is always a good idea but politicians in general prefer their own opinions to all that effort.

    Actually, just go and dig out the 1841 speeches to parliament of Thomas Macauley MP. He said everything worth saying about copyright, including predicting the degenerate copyright we have today.

    I’m sorry to say that the “14 years after death, really” looks like no more than traditional political spin and damage limitation. Words mean what words say, in manifestos especially. OK, you deny it, but I can tell you that all politicians view creatives as just a sort of raw material. They are beset, on the one hand by voters who want maximum freedom at minimum cost, and corporates who talk in terms of jobs and GDP and tax (well, except Google, obviously). Creatives are just inconvenient whingers who muddy and confuse this simple two-sided narrative.

    We are in a situation akin to C20th fishing, where bigger and better trawlers led to more and cheaper fish and bigger profits for fishermen. Until overfishing meant it had to change, nobody believed there wasn’t an infinite supply of fish. In other words, creativity is an ecosystem, we cod are on the way to extinction as professional creativity becomes untenable, and now everybody is harvesting lesser fish and used condoms via UGC and crowdsourcing. Long term it’s not nutritious or sustainable. If all the pirated professionally-created material was removed from Google and You Tube there would just be a sea of mostly dreck and marketing flotsam.

    I’d hope the Greens would have a better grip on this view of creativity as an ecosystem, rather than chucking dynamite into the pond then saying “oops”. But, as I say, politicians don’t listen to fish.

    Another mistake, though. Copyright in photos expires 70 years after death, the same as other literary and artistic works.

    25th April 2015
  20. Tony Sleep said:

    Or to put this another way, I have an estimated 6,000 infringements against my work. My income is 10% of what it was, I no longer create much at all because I cannot afford to. Just this week I had to turn down a sale because I cannot afford to repair or replace equipment that has failed. I will no longer borrow from banks, having no expectation of things improving. I have sacked most corporate clients over copyright grabs and other “offers I cannot refuse” that require me to indemnify them for anything they do wrong. Most of my work that still has value in the market pre-dates digital photography. I wouldn’t even own that if copyright expired at 14 years.

    Frame a copyright policy that addresses some of that, please. I can put you in touch with 1,100 other pro photographers who are, with the exception of maybe half a dozen, in the same sinking boat.

    25th April 2015
  21. John said:

    This all comes down to the basic question, as Phil adroitly outlined – is the policy as written correct or is it a mistake? If it doesn’t accurately state the agreed party policy then fix it now, it doesn’t need a 6 month wait, it’s not a change in your constitution, its correcting a clerical error.
    The fact that you’re not able to do this suggests 1) It’s not a mistake – you mean 14 years from creation, and 2) the Green Party is not able to respond quickly to key issues, and thus can’t be trusted to govern.

    I’ve a 35 year career in illustration, and earn less from it now than I did when I first started, mainly due to the eroding of fees, unethical copyright grabbing contracts and waning opportunities in the graphic arts. Freelancers like myself look to the Green Party as a voice for the artist, not against them.

    Creative professionals are drifting away from the Green Party because of this copyright issue, but also the insipid response from representatives, which is due to the way the party works. You need to do something to reassure artists QUICKLY. i.e. before the election!

    Two other points : Tom, yours has been the clearest statement since this blew up, but I have to say personally nothing abhores me more than the thought of a society where hoards of part-time non-professional artists spend their free time dabbling in the business I’ve devoted my entire professional life to, freely grabbing and recycling other’s work without check, undermining the fees of professionals by accepting very low-paid commissions. It’s not good for professional artists who are finding themselves undercut by amateurs with less talent but freedom to cut and paste other’s work, and it’s not good for the part-timers either, who are exploited by unethical clients.

    Also, as fashions change and technology evolves, work from our earliest days take on a new relevance. Authors/illustrators are able to re-publish their out-of-print back catalogue either as ebooks or limited edition print-on-demand. 14 years copyright limit would be disasterous for this.

    25th April 2015
    • steveh said:

      The policy document is not a mistake because it so closely resembles the conclusions of academic Rufus Pollock who originally came up with 14 years from publication (not from death) as the “optimal copyright term”. This is the same Rufus Pollack that Tom Chance references in his blog. The fact that Tom Chance tips his hat to Pollock somewhat undermines his credentials as an honest broker in this matter.

      Where did they get this “14 years” figure from? Did they just pluck it from the sky? No they got it from Rufus Pollock’s research, widely known among anti-copyright nuts.

      And 14 years after death makes no sense at all. If you are going to change the after death term surely a more round figure like 10, 20 or 30 would be more obvious would it not?

      The bottom line is this:- there is nothing remotely Green about limiting copyright term. Nothing at all.

      The originators of the modern anti-copyright movement like Laurence Lessig and the Electronic Frontier Foundation and The Pirate Party in Sweden have more in common with the libertarian far-right. Nothing Green there.

      25th April 2015
      • tomchance said:


        What part of our policy will affect your ability to earn? Your recordings will still be copyrighted for fifty years, and your compositions will expire 14 years after your death, rather than 70. I think you’re attacking a straw man, here.


        26th April 2015
        • steveh said:

          Hi Tom. What utterly mystifies me is why is there any need to change the current death plus 70 years term at all?

          It isn’t broken – why in God’s name do you wish to fix it?

          And in terms of pure politics:- why are the Greens seriously damaging their credibility amongst creative people here? Creatives are surely a core Green constituency. Why are you doing this? Just to change 70 years to 14 years? It’s totally mad!

          26th April 2015
  22. Gail Storm said:

    In the current age, copyright is no longer something people will earn in the short term. Their work will be online for the length of their lifetimes and thus the ability to earn from say, youtube or music streaming (though more limited) is going to change that. Further the abundance of fraudulent spam sites that are going to just take what you write and repost it will increase if you drop the copyright protection.

    25th April 2015
  23. Joseph Stopps said:

    I make my living out of managing pop stars who had hits around 30 years ago. I have negotiated with the labels for them to exploit their copyrights in both their masters and their compositions directly. The artists make a reasonable living and pay Tax. I also make a living which supports my family. The policy of 14 years would put me out of business overnight. How can I support a party that would destroy my livelihood. I am totally gutted. I have removed my ‘Vote Green’ poster from my window’. I will have to go back to the lib dems.

    25th April 2015
    • tomchance said:


      It is 14 years after their death, please read the blog! Our policy will not put you out of business!


      26th April 2015
  24. Michael Natkanski said:

    As a composer and songwriter I am appalled by Tom’s views. He is big on sharing, but simply ignores the cost of production. So Tom, where is justification and explanation for why I must advance all of the production costs, so you and your kind can ‘share’ it later ?

    My last album cost many thousands to make, which I paid for myself, and copyright is essential for me (and all those like me) to have a chance of getting some of the back, and maybe even enough of a profit to do the next one, and buy some food and shoes.

    But not if Tom and the like have their way.

    So Tom, I look forward to your detailed explanation of how music productions is paid for if royalties are taken away ?

    (For those of you who aren’t musicians, the production costs are things like hiring session musicians, recording equipment, web sites, and all the rest of it….)

    25th April 2015
  25. S. Muench said:

    One thing you don’t seem to understand: is no copyright on ideas.

    Romeo and Julia didn’t have to be in the public domain for West Side Story to be made. Pride and Prejudice didn’t have to be in the public domain for Brigitte Jones’ Diary to be made — ditto Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey. It’s only the specific wording that is protected. So the argument that new creators would be “stifled” is moot.

    The appropriate word here for these people is not “creator”, but “adaptor”.

    All writers are inspired by other writers; but the best ones, the true creators, create (see that word?) their own original works, and don’t need to adapt or remix. And I don’t think people who want to adapt/re-mix should be prioritised above those that create original content.

    I agree with everything Trev said.

    My books were published by a Big 5 Publisher between 1999 and 2004. This backlist is now going to be republished digitally, and I’m beginning to see a welcome income, one that will hopefully help sustain me when I retire, as I’ll have a pitifully small pension. Should they at some stage “take off”, which is always a possibility, I’d much prefer to see my children and grandchildren continue to enjoy any profit they might bring after my death, rather than complete strangers/corporations. Because someone WOULD profit. Why not my own descendants? Why can I leave a house to my descendants, but not the fruit of my labour, ie royalty payments?

    26th April 2015
    • tomchance said:

      I’m afraid you’re wrong that it’s just the specific wording that is protected. As to whether your specific examples would constitute violations, I’m not sure, it would need a court judgement.

      There’s a long and interesting debate in aesthetics about the notion of “original” works, few thing such a pure thing exists.

      As I have said in other comments, the copyright on your works will already expire 70 years after your death, do you object to that too? Physical and intellectual property are already treated completely differently, also including for example fair dealing and fair use provisions.

      26th April 2015
      • steveh said:

        Hey Tom there is not one active creative person commenting here who is supporting your ludicrous and dangerous notions about copyright and yet you are saying to people “you’re wrong”?

        I mean who the hell are you? What on earth qualifies you to make these arrogant pronouncements?

        26th April 2015
        • tomchance said:

          Hi Steve,

          I’m somebody who spent many years studying copyright and discussing it with expert lawyers. There’s no need to start using language like that.


          26th April 2015
          • steveh said:

            Tom, you might have had some academic experience in the copyright field but you do not have any experience of what it’s actually like to have your entire living based on your creative work and its copyright protections.

            Therefore I find it distressingly arrogant for you to pronounce on this subject in the way that you do.

            You should show a bit of humility and listen to real creative people.

            And also, what is so Green about copyright term restriction? Why are the Greens even talking about this?

            26th April 2015
          • tomchance said:


            I’m sorry that you find me “distressingly arrogant”.

            I have taken the time – in the middle of a very taxing election campaign – to write such a long blog post on the matter, and to engage extensively on this blog and on Twitter on the subject.

            My thoughts on this subject – which you’re free to disagree with – are based on those years of study, in academia and outside; many discussions with legal experts; my own experience earning an income from my copyright on photography and freelance journalism; my knowledge based on family and friends who are artists, authors and musicians; and my time co-running a community arts project that brought in everyone from successful professionals to refugee kids.

            If you’d like to learn more about how copyright could have stopped hip hop, and in fact according to many early hip hop artists how it killed much of it off, start with these articles: How Copyright Law Changed Hip Hop and Did the Decline of Sampling Cause the Decline of Political Hip Hop?. If you’d like to read some more about other ways in which a very strict application of copyright law has hindered creativity, you might like to read this story of a film maker in 2004 being charged £230,000 in royalties for incidental radio music in the background of a film he made for £124, or this lengthy article in the New York Times. You could also read the Free Culture booked I linked to in my blog.

            I’m not being arrogant, I’m just trying – patiently – to point out where people have misconceptions about copyright law, and indeed about Green Party policy.

            Why do we have policy on this? You could ask the same about huge swathes of other Green Party policy. We aren’t, and have never been, a single-issue party and it is for our members to decide whether we should adopt policy positions on subjects like this.

            Personally, I think that our approach to the “creative industries” and to creativity and the arts more generally are central to how we think about a post-materialist world. I would like to see many more people consuming and producing culture (if you’ll excuse the clunky phraseology), both to support activities that don’t consume physical resources and because it enriches our lives, it is central to our project of promoting wellbeing instead of economic growth. So for me – and if you read my dissertation this should come across loud and clear – we need to think about how our copyright system can help make being a journalist, musician, poet etc. financially viable and help as many people engage with culture as possible.

            You ask what harm copyright causes – I have given some examples above. I could turn your question on its head and ask, what harm does it cause if I make a mix tape for a friend (copyright violation) or put a funny political joke on a AP photo of Grant Shapps (copyright violation) or used a two second sample in a track I produce (copyright violation)? The harm to you is the loss of potential income. The harm to me, and society, if copyright were enforced to the letter of the law would be that none of the above would be possible. So copyright law should be – and has always been, in UK law, a balancing act – providing property rights that do just enough to sustain the arts without patronage, but not too much so that they unnecessarily constrain our culture.

            I think I’ll leave it there.

            26th April 2015
          • steveh said:

            Hi Tom Thankyou for your long reply. I appreciate that.

            Now in reply to you specific points you raise at the end:- I don’t have a problem with any of the situations you describe. And I agree with you that there can be real problems with over zealous copyright enforcement.

            If you wanted to use a sample, and asked me (as many people courteously do), I would undoubtedly say yes. But if you were a nasty corporation and wanted to appropriate my music for a purpose that I did not approve of without paying me a penny I would say very loud NO!

            And this is the point Tom. Why shouldn’t I retain the right to approve uses of my work? It’s not ultimately to do with money – it’s about a much deeper set of rights than that. And this is what individual copyright term means. It’s a protection for us artists against corporate abuse of our creations. You don’t seem to get this.

            And I maintain that, despite your studies, you haven’t grasped what individual copyright term feels like from the inside – for an actual creative person for whom it’s the whole basis of their living.

            26th April 2015
  26. Dave said:

    One point that seems to have escaped the attention of many is that, whatever the moral value of a law, if it can’t be enforced there’s not much you can do about it.

    Creators should be able to make a living, but fully enforcing copyright in the internet age would require a surveillance state – with computers so locked down that they limit their owners’ creativity and provide a great way for the state (or even just criminals and corporations) to interfere with our freedom of speech, etc.

    I believe the Greens genuinely want to consult with all the people affected, and do the right thing – but they shouldn’t do this with a knee-jerk response resulting in ill-thought out policy. Luckily they won’t, as the constitution doesn’t allow it.

    26th April 2015
  27. Jon said:

    I find it highly ironic (being a ‘bedroom’ music producer) how copywrite laws, especially in the music industry are being used to stifle the industry as a whole, a good example is the ‘Amen break’, it’s a sample from a B-side track ‘Amen Brother’ by the Winstons and for a lot of modern music is the most important six second sample to ever exist.

    This 6 second sample was HEAVILY used in the late 80s after the invention of the sampling machine. NWA, Public Enemy, Run DMC and many other hip-hop and rap artists used this break, some just looped the 6 second sample, others chopped it into pieces and created more variation. Then in the early 90s London based artists increased the speed, chopped up the sample further and created the genres of breakbeat and jungle – which later led onto the genre of drum and bass.

    Now recently I went to buy some pre-recorded samples (all copywrited and you had to pay A LOT for the right to use the samples in your song) and guess what? The Amen break was in there, yes some company is making money off the Winstons AND the original artists aren’t getting a penny?!

    I’m all for sensible copywrite and protecting original content from plagiarism but if the current laws were in place since the 80s there would have been no hip-hop/rap/gangsta-rap revolution in the 80s/90s and no breakbeat/jungle/drum and bass in the 90s/2000s.

    26th April 2015
    • steveh said:

      Hey Jon – you are talking absolute rubbish here.

      The individual creative copyright term was established at death plus 50 years in 1911!! This was extended to death plus 70 years in 1996.

      So essentially the current laws WERE in place in the 80s, so your point about the development of hip hop and drum n bass is completely wrong!

      Sure, all kinds of copyright law abuse occurs, but I’m puzzled as to why you have this incorrect notion of the basic concept of individual copyright term. What propaganda have you been listening to?

      26th April 2015
      • tomchance said:

        You’re right that the terms were in place, but it’s also true that hip hop couldn’t have emerged if copyrights were protected as assiduously as they are today, just as most Internet culture couldn’t exist if the corporate part had won and hamstrung technology to make it impossible to violate any copyright.

        This is why we need to get a good balance between supporting people to earn enough to create new works but not tying things down so much that it impedes our culture. Current copyright policy already tries to achieve this, we’re not saying anything new, just that we think life plus 70 years is excessive, fair dealing should look more like the American fair use, etc.


        26th April 2015
        • steveh said:

          Tom – what specific law has changed since the 80s or since 1996, that has made it necessary now, in 2015, to limit copyright term. Please tell me.

          And also please, as a Green, answer my philosophical question:-

          How is any sentient being in the universe harmed by the individual copyright term I hold for my creative works?

          Please tell me your answer.

          26th April 2015

Comments are closed.