Green Panic!

In case you missed it, some arts people on the interwebs (and presumably the real world too) are in high dudgeon, claiming it’s the end of the Green Party’s moral integrity forever and ever because, in a policy document on the website it says… well, let me copy and paste:

Intellectual Property

Background

EC1000 The term intellectual property covers a number of different areas, such as cultural products (see EC1011 below), software, physical inventions, drugs and natural entities protected by different means such as copyright, patents and trademarks. There are differences within and between these areas, and there can be no single intellectual property policy. The crucial balance in policy is 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.

Policy

EC1010 Our general presumption is to encourage the Green value of greater sharing and to make it more difficult to obtain patents and similar forms of protection than at present. Specific policies are below.

EC1011 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 (see CMS200 onwards). Specifically we will

  • introduce a Citizen’s Income, which will allow many more people to participate in cultural creation;
  • introduce generally shorter copyright terms, with a usual maximum of 14 years
  • legalise peer to peer copying where it is not done as a business;
  • liberalise ‘fair use’ policies to operate outside the academic environment, and allow greater development from existing copyright material; and
  • make it impossible to patent broad software and cultural ideas.

There’s more related stuff, but that’s the bit that someone has kindly screen-grabbed and used to proclaim Green Armageddon. You can find it yourself here.

Bear in mind I’m not representing the party, just my own self as a moderately active member and as yet unsuccessful Tower Hamlets council candidate (surely the bigger news today is the Rahman trial, not EC1011). What follows is a personal explanation of why I think this panic is all a bit daft.

The main principle is that letting people do stuff for themselves (like earn a living or express an opinion, as well as make art) is more important than corporate profit. That’s a pretty good principle, and Green ideas around intellectual property are mainly aimed at addressing the way corporate power is claiming ownership over, well, everything. Copyright and patents are being used to privatise the natural world, wring profits out the poor, stifle dissent and generally wreak lucrative corporate mayhem. Some company in California has probably already filed a copyright claim for this sentence.

Of course, if it’s an individual artist losing out that’s different. That’d be a problem, I agree. There is certainly a balance to be struck in the arts between greater participation versus greater professionalisation. But bear in mind that the policy above is only a general principle (it even says “there can be no single intellectual property policy”) and that an actual bill facing Parliament would be far more detailed. Moreover, since this policy area isn’t primarily aimed at freelance artists, we can’t assume this would be applied to us. Yeah, I realise that we’re the centre of the known universe, but not everyone else has realised that yet. Also, if it were applied, as Caroline Lucas has pointed out, it would almost definitely be 14 years from the creator’s death, not from the creation of each piece of work.

Furthermore, it isn’t even in the 2015 manifesto. The manifesto says “Make copyright shorter in length, fair and flexible, and prevent patents applying to software,” In the general background section it says “We need copyright laws that reward creators but that are consistent with digital technologies”. So that’s by no means a commitment to do anything that would harm anyone specific, let alone us poor artists! (Emphasis my own.)

Let’s also remember that the Green Party is generally pretty good for the arts with pledges (actually in the manifesto this time) for “fair pay in the arts” and to increase spending on the arts “by £500 million a year to restore the cuts made since 2010”. Oh yeah, get THAT. I haven’t read the other parties’ manifestoes but I doubt those two beauties will crop up much. (Emphasis my own. Again.)

The Greens are big on using money as a way to have a decent life, rather than as a way to put arbitrary value on things like art, nature, happiness etc. That’s a good principle, I think – not to look at everything in terms of monetising the bejesus out of it – but obviously the application of this idealism is far from simple. It’s certainly right for an artist to be paid for repeat uses. And we also need to avoid scenarios where others could be profiting from re-publishing out-of-copyright work while the original creators are still alive (and probably poor, let’s face it). But that level of detail isn’t yet being addressed.

Let’s also not forget that the Green Party is democratic, and this idea must have come in because (a) some members wanted it and (b) not enough people didn’t. It can potentially be scrapped or improved at the next conference. I don’t agree with every policy the party has, and I’m sure many other members also have their little disagreements here or there. But the great thing with the Greens is that that’s OK. It’s part of being a democratic party. If you want to change it, get involved.

Finally, the most daft thing about all of this huffing and puffing isn’t the policy statement. It’s the knee-jerk reaction. How is it rational to stop supporting Greens because of a complete load of scaremongering guesswork about one aspect of possible future policy, when the Greens remain not only the best party for the arts but, more importantly, the only party that is facing up to the seriousness of climate change and the way the neoliberal consensus is stifling the chance to make the world better?

(This post has been revised to reflect comments made by Caroline Lucas on her website.)


The home page cover image for this article is three insect stones for Chigwell Row Wood, carved from Forest of Dean stone, by Angela Godfrey – that’s my mum, who also took the photos. Cos they’re art in a green context innit.)

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