‘Black Knight vs King’ by Angelo Loukakis
(Launch speech for Writers & Copyright, 23 May 2016)
 
In May this year we launched our Writers & Copyright book to great acclaim. Esteemed Australian author Angelo Loukakis has kindly shared his launch speech from the event (below) in which he articulates the current climate for authorship in Australia and the practical values of the book.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

© Australian Copyright Council

"A full and proper appreciation of this new publication needs, seems to me, a context: and the best context I can think of is the place of copyright in the working life of the author. After all, the historical exercise to bring about copyright had at its heart the interests of authors as much as anything else.

To produce a piece of writing is hard enough, you are assailed by doubts: can I make this thing real, who will believe in it, is it any good, and generally speaking, what the hell do I think I’m doing…? Thoughts like these are a kind of ringing in the writer’s ear, our particular form of tinnitus.

The act of writing becomes even harder when there is no structure beneath us, or when such structure is threatened or undermined. Modern commerce and production processes, mechanical and electronic, make manufacture, distribution and exchange possible on a scale that was once upon a time impossible. The law of copyright meanwhile provides a set of rules that productively link the author to their creation in ways that were unknown until the early eighteenth century.
 
The laws and practice of copyright provide the author of a given work the only direct and personal platform they have for their creation: by way of the right to its ownership, the right to its identity and its integrity. And that’s before any commercial rights the creator might enjoy – which are also part of the achievement in copyright, even if it’s one of the most threatened these days.

 
In short, copyright is the best platform literary creators have to stand on in order to go about their business.  But when active governmental, legislative and practical respect for these principles goes missing or is in short supply – as we have so regrettably experienced in Australia in recent years – authors come to be reduced or damaged, and in many ways.

It’s extremely unnerving for authors to find themselves in this situation. Just how unnerved they are can be seen in the responses the Australian Society of Authors has received to its campaign and petition regarding the Productivity Commission’s ignorant sorties over the recent past. In an attempt to stave off the damage that the PC is so determinedly sooling the government towards, some 8000+ people [over 18,000 in early October] have signed its petition so far… and more and more join every day as they come to realise what is being proposed.

For the past decades, and this includes into the digital era, authors have been quietly doing what we think is our duty and going about our writing - only to now find ourselves engaged in combat that ought not have been required of us, or not required if there was within government and its agencies a fair and decent understanding of copyright and the individual creator. Like Monty Python’s Black Knight, suddenly we find ourselves astride a narrow log over a running stream, making brave noises while we are being hacked to pieces by the King.

Although perhaps not so obsessed with the rules as that sad knight – who thought he was only following the rules after all – we too at least believed that we were on the same side as the rule-makers, or anyway working in the same kingdom …

Developments in copyright have been hard won things, and old things – interesting to think that English language copyright first appeared more than seventy years before the conquest of Indigenous Australia by white Europeans. A stray thought: The conquest of Australia came to represent the tragic loss of an entire people’s property in the broadest sense. On a much lesser scale of course, here we are – another class of persons being told that what we thought was ours is not ours, or anyway, it would be better for everyone – ‘everyone’ being code for the usurping class – if we didn’t insist on claiming it so loudly as our own. Theft goes by many names in this country.

The usefulness of copyright was once appreciated more acutely than it perhaps is today in Australia. A general valuing of copyright underpinned the efforts that led to our own Copyright Act, to the Copyright Agency, to the Australian Copyright Council, which august body is responsible as you know for this publication, to an expanded and enhanced local publishing scene with many more writers proportionately than sixty or seventy years ago… But, as my dear old departed dad used to say, memory is short in Australia…

In the context of the current copyright environment – let’s be hopeful and assume that it stays current for a while yet – what does this book, Writers & Copyright, actually do…?

Simply and firstly, it rightfully asserts that copyright is the ‘backbone’ of the creative sector. And from there it goes on to provide the sort of information on law and regulation and practice that is absolutely and specifically vital to authors – as well as to playwrights, screenwriters and other writers for performance.

It presents information that not only shows these creators how to defend their intellectual property, but in ways that will serve to extend their creative practice and, where audiences and markets are found, to enjoy a rightful material reward for their effort and time.

From my own perspective as the author of a number of books and TV, film and play scripts, I know this: when an author is able to assert identity and control of their work, they are at the very least in a place where they can hopefully benefit from what they have created. As so much of what happens with a literary work is a question of quality, audience, the vagaries of markets, sheer luck, and so on, you can see how central having a functioning and equitable set of copyright rules becomes.

Further, when we are able to assert the identity of our intellectual property, we are also in a position to trade rights territorially – which is one of the other great boons that copyright affords. Authors seek to extend the reach of their writing, they want to touch the minds and hearts of other human beings in distant parts – but not via theft and abuse of their property.

This book delivers much of practical value… Not least because it is concise, and, full of up-to-date material. Having spent a lot of time on the vexed business of defending our beleaguered class from assaults against copyright at the regulatory level, it’s a relief to me as ex-ASA chief to see that others have been busily at work on maintaining the detailed knowledge of practical copyright management and practice.

The examples drawn from the book and related industries, the breakout boxes that bring in examples of dramas in copyright, and tell of what happens when things go legal, are a real bonus. The variety of judgements, especially those that have engaged with aspects of ‘fair use’ doctrine, are a timely reminder of what an ass the fair use doctrine has proved to be in the US.

What else does a publication of this kind do? Well, it provides an important benefit in the very act of gathering copyright knowledge and disseminating that knowledge.

These activities work to reinforce the notion and practice of copyright itself. As with all things in life worth keeping, it’s important that copyright and its value be explained and understood, if it’s to go on being useful to creators and society alike.

Writers & Copyright arms the author well for their daily work, and will assist in doing something more: as much as it informs the contemporary practice of Australian copyright, it will help keep the story of copyright alive.

In explaining how Australia’s ‘fair dealing’ system operates, how moral rights or territoriality function, and many other matters, it reminds of what we currently have that is good, but also threatened. Proposals to change or ‘reform’ (dreaded word) copyright for these and the times to come should be made against the great achievements in, and usefulness of, what we already have and that remains generative and efficient.

It’s sobering to think that this book would have to be substantially rewritten in the event that some of the proposals being put to government today actually pass into law.

On that front, what do we now? Seems to me we have to try convince the metaphorical monarch there are other ways available, different routes to the ends we as creators seek and need, and that would be of benefit to the sovereign’s subjects and to the well-being of the creative realm. Because for a hapless and poorly armed defender to try to stay upright while perched precariously so as to engage in a brutal battle against the decisive power of a monarch, really doesn’t bear thinking about…

Copyright is a human value, a right and a potential economic benefit. Authoring is a good and important individual and social task. This book supports both. As an author myself I can see its tremendous usefulness. And so I would encourage other creators, not only book authors, to buy it and learn.

To end, I’d like to thank Jo Teng for a writing job well done, and Fiona Phillips who has orchestrated and continues to orchestrate the critical business of spreading the copyright word on all our behalfs, the board of the ACC for supporting this and all the rest of work of that organisation, the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts for providing their excellent space for its launch today, and CA for sponsoring this event.

And so and finally I hereby declare the good ship Writers & Copyright well and truly launched…"