Monday, 14 September 2015


I have a friend who is a writer.  Writing is her profession, and her main income comes from selling her work.  Even a comparatively short newspaper or magazine article is the result of several hours’ work in researching and fact checking, followed by more hours of initial drafting, plus the time spent thereafter honing the prose, with each word and phrase carefully chosen and placed to be as effective as possible in setting the tone, and providing smooth readability.  A short story or book can take weeks or months of drafting, editing and re-drafting.  It’s the same with all experts who manufacture handmade one-off items for a living – the income comes from selling what you have made, and what puts you in the bracket to earn a living from your talent - is being able to make something of a better quality than most people could.  And each thing any professional craftsperson makes - has to bring in enough money in comparison to the cost of the materials and the number of hours spent on creating it, to make a viable profit.


I know there are a lot of Leaders within Guiding who find copyright and performing rights laws an inconvenience, a barrier to what they want to do, or feel they should only apply to professionals and not to amateurs like them, or charities such as their units.  Or who don’t understand them, or don’t realise that they apply to everyone no matter at what scale.  It can be easy to imagine that ‘big business’ can afford to give away it’s produce cheaply or free, and therefore shouldn’t be charging fees to the small-scale users of their wares – what’s a children’s performance at the village hall, or a few dozen photocopies of a script, or showing a video at the Brownie sleepover, or photocopying a resource, to them?


The initial difficulty which writers and composers face is similar to the one the chair-maker has – that once they first sell the item they have painstakingly made, that item can then be sold on repeatedly over the coming years, possibly for a higher amount than the maker was paid for it.  But until recently the chair-maker has at least had the assurance that her chair can only be used by one owner at a time, and that if people want more chairs to exactly match the original, then they have to hire her services as no-one else would be able to make an exact match – however for writers, that safeguard does not exist.  Photocopy machines and scanners mean that it is easy for a handcrafted piece of writing to be copied hundreds of times, in seconds, and circulated far and wide without the creator knowing, far less benefiting.  If people ignore copyright laws, then the writer does not get their share.


Also, the reason a handcrafted chair can be sold for a price which reflects the quality of materials and number of hours it took to make, is because people appreciate and respect the skill of the carpenter, sure that they could not possibly make anything as good themselves.  Yet writers and composers often don’t get the same respect for the skill of their craft – lots of people fondly imagine they could write a novel if they only had the time – they assume that time is their only barrier, that the original idea and the talent to write that idea up well would both follow automatically.  Yes, anyone can fasten together a few planks and make something which could be termed a chair – though it may well lack the comfort, beauty or stability of a well-made chair.  And anyone can throw together a few sentences into paragraphs and make a story or article out of them, but it takes a craftsperson’s skill to add design, style, quality, artistry, beauty, clarity, polish, readability, atmosphere, tone . . . most of us do not have that talent.


‘The labourer is worthy of his hire’ – well, if you want to use a script or song someone else has written, then you are effectively hiring them and their skills.  And that is what you are paying for, when you pay a copyright fee on a script or piece of sheet music.  If you want to use an artist’s recording of a piece of music, for the girls to sing or dance to, or a writer’s play script for a pack performance, or an activity pack someone else has written for your unit programme or camp theme, then the same principle applies in terms of the performing rights.  You’re hiring both the original writer of the piece, the performing artists on the recording, and all the trades involved in the production of the recorded work - and it therefore seems only reasonable that you pay your share of the cost of all those people’s skills.  One look at the credits list of even a low-budget film will give an idea of how many people it takes, and who all has to make a living.


Within Guiding, there are some skilled amateur writers who produce resources for their own units.  Some of them are very generous, and offer to share their work with other Leaders and units, often entirely free.  All they ask in return is that they are given the credit for that hard creative work – so if someone has a copyright symbol © on a resource they have created, you should be careful to ensure that the symbol is never removed, and that you respect their right to claim the credit for their work.  And if someone hasn’t put a copyright symbol on, but you know them to definitely be the originator, you could add it, to ensure that credit goes where it’s due and isn’t mis-attributed.  (And of course, if you get have a gift of that sort, you wouldn’t pass it on to anyone else, or make extra copies beyond the number originally agreed, without getting fresh permission from the originator that she is happy for it to be shared further than she originally authorised.)


Others produce packs of ideas which come along with a badge to be bought, in which case their plan is that the money charged for the badges will help to cover the production costs of both pack and badges combined, often leaving a little over to be put towards a stated good cause.  Sadly, there are actually some people who will obtain and use several ideas from a resource pack but not buy even a token badge in return, with the result that instead of the originator covering their costs and raising some money for the good cause as planned, they actually raise far less than they ought have, and could even make a loss – which doesn’t seem very fair or Guide-like.  Other Leaders, who find themselves with spare badges left over after using the activity pack with their unit, will put the spares up for auction, make a profit on the leftover badges thus sold – but do they donate those profits to the cause the badge was being sold in aid of? Or do they pocket them?  I do hope they go to the cause which was intended, but I suspect the answer would be ‘only some do, most don’t’.


Yes, sometimes copyright can ‘get in the way’ of what I do in Guiding.  There are some songs which I don’t use for unit performances because I feel the fee is too high to justify for a small charity like mine.  I can’t always get hold of the copyright-free clipart I want, and I don’t currently have the time or skill to create my own.  And it can be tempting to take the easy option rather than do the right thing over copyright.  But by the same token, it means that some of the resources I’ve worked hard to produce have been protected, and it means I get fair acknowledgement for my time and effort in creating them.  Wouldn’t it be great if everyone in Guiding played fair over copyright, and respecting creative work?

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