Cornering Creativity, The Nation, 17 March 1997
3. the artists
At the Pan-African
Colloquium on the Living and Working Conditions of the Artists,
Brazzaville, 20-23 July 1994, the Congolese writer Jean-Baptiste
Tati-Loutard 'deplored the practice of authors publishing their
works at their own expense, which was ruinously costly for young
writers, and the very frequent failure of African publishing houses
to pay copyright (Pan-African Colloquium, 1994: 14).' One may guess
that this is the situation in most Third World countries and for
all the fields of the arts. Obviously there will be differences
here and there. In general, artists in the non-western parts of
the world may be happy if they can make a living from their work.
The impression exists that this is most of the time not from copyrights
or author rights. The conflicting arguments concerning unauthorized
use of works of art have been discussed above.
is needed in order to get a clearer picture of the situation for
artists concerning their rights. It is to be feared that collecting
societies of the money to be paid for copyrights do not exist in
most non-western countries or function only marginally. The question
is also who controls them, if they exist at all. It seems to be
unlikely that in the near future an adequately functioning structure
of collecting societies will come into being. If this seems to be
the reality, one may wonder whether ideas are developed about structurally
safeguarded remuneration systems for artists which may work better.
For many artists
in the western countries too copyrights or authors rights have only
a symbolic meaning. Their turnover is modest. The overhead of collecting
societies - even at the lowest level inevitable - takes away parts
of the revenues for artists. Add this to the fact that users of
copyrighted materials are getting more and more irritated about
the amounts of money which should be paid and the many different
kinds of rights for which they must pay, and we see a complicated
picture. One may wonder whether the existing system does not demotivate
restaurants to let perform live music; and it is not seldom that
older, copyright free works have a better chance to reach a public
than new work which is more expensive.
Is it true that
the cynical conclusion must be that copyrights and authors rights
are pushing away contemporary artists? It is not sure whether stronger
enforcements of the copyright and authors right systems may help.
The price of the payment to the artists - by an intellectual right
or on another way - will be more and more decisive for the chance
artists may have to make a reasonable living. All those factors
which may happen and are happening already for artists are demanding
a precise analysis.
This is the
more necessary because also artists who are doing economically better
are not sure any more of getting proper payments by copyrights or
authors rights. Janine Jacquet reports in The Nation: 'The rise
in value of creative expression should be good news for writers,
and it is - as long as they control the rights on their own work.
But this is less and less the case. . . . Book contracts have gotten
"greedier and greedier", says Kay Murray, assistant director
of the Authors Guild. Some writers are worried that the exploitative
practices of periodicals will be adopted by publishers, especially
since so many are now corporate cousins of newspapers and magazines.
. . . Because everyone is convinced that the future somehow involves
the digitization of information, publishers now want electronic
rights. But CD-ROMs and the Internet have so far yielded little
and cost plenty, so publishers don't want to pay much - or anything
- for those rights. What they want, says Dan Carlinsky, vice-president
of contracts of the American Society of Journalists and Authors,
is "raw materials for free." . . .
Even if writers
manage to negotiate fair, even lucrative, contracts for their work,
they will probably be signing over more rights than ever before,
and someday maybe even all rights. This means that publishing houses
- now dominated by the media conglomerates - will have ever more
control over how a writer's words and ideas will be used.' (18)
those are directions, Shalini Venturelli claims, which 'deemphasize
the rights of creative labor, from their economic rights to their
moral as well as constitutionalpolitical rights (1997: 68,9).' Most
of what should be said about the position of the artists in the
field of intellectual rights can be understood only in this broader
context, which will be the theme of the fourth theme of this article.