Understanding Copyright Morally as Lawfully The Artist and Copyrighteousness
Recently in one of my children’s art classes I had an interesting discussion with one of my younger students. In the last three sessions this student had taken a lot of time and care to draw from a picture and did it very well indeed. He then told me: “I will do this one again, because I can sell one and keep the other”. I told him that he unfortunately was not able to do that, because the work he did had been copied from another artist. I explained that it was fine for him to copy the work of other people for the purpose of learning, but that he had no right to use it for his own profit due to what we call "Copyright Law.”
This introduced an interesting discussion, as he reluctantly refused to adhere to such law. He replied that it would not matter if he would sell it, because no one would know. I then explained to him the importance of copyright for the protection of artists like himself, but it seemed that the reason for such law just did not reached his brain as the thought of making a profit was greater. When I unfolded that a person could be sued when breaching copyright, he argued that he is too young to be convicted of a crime. Well, the whole affair went into a wonderful healthy discussions of moral matters and as to why the breaking of a law, even if one disagrees with a rule and despite that no one may ever found out about it, is still wrong.
Copyright today is not only overlooked but also deeply misunderstood. The amount of times I hear people say that copying is allowed as long as one uses only up to 25% of someone's work is enormous and I wonder how such myth persists to date when the law that protects an artist 100% of his creations was corrected eons ago.
The moment you put your pencil or brush into action, anything from what you draw in front of you to what you see in your mind, is copyrighted. Puncto! You do not need to claim or register it, as it is literally self-activated.
There is no “if” or “but” or anything else. An artist just doesn’t copy another artists work. An artwork is and becomes valuable because it is a “one off”, it is unique. If we steal an image from another artist, be it a photographer or fine artist, we acknowledge on the hand that it has an attraction, something we like, but at the same time we refuse to give credit to its creator. To learn to produce unique works takes years, in skill and creativity. Creativity can be learned, as it is a matter of stretching the brain on a regular basis and professional skills are obtained by persistent drawing and painting in practice. To simply copy someone is a shortcut, a lazy way to get to exceptional results earlier by stealing.
On a moral basis, it is interesting how quickly we justify a crime, yes crime, no matter how small, if we believe it doesn’t present too much harm to someone or everyone else is doing it.
The movie (Dis) Honesty: The Truth About Lies examines how falsehood sprouts amongst us. In one of their research studies, people had to attend a test situation in which they had to answer several hard questions. They were given five minutes to answer as many questions as they could. Afterwards they were told that the results they had written down would go into the shredder, nobody could check the results. They were promised $100 per correct answer. It was concealed to participants that only the first cover page went into the shredder and the results remained available for researchers to record false answers.
The outcome, of 40,000 people (a vast research number), a bulking 70% lied in the experiment. Twenty percent were heavy tricksters and 50% cheated only a little bit. They conducted several tests to demonstrate how easy we give into cheating if we can rationalise that it would not hurt that much, that we are doing something for other people, or that everyone else is doing it too. These types of rationalisations work supersonic in our kind.
The interesting aspect of the experiment draws breath from the fact that the greatest harm related actually to minor frauds, which had a combined cheating loss of tens of thousands of dollars. Partakers believed that their fabricated lie was only a small one and would not hurt anyone sizeably. The greatest injury to our economy is by people from all walks of life who honestly believe that it is Ok to cheat as long as it in small doses. But we cry out loud when we are the ones being cheated on. Somewhere along the line, it is lost in translation, that our life is by no means in any way significantly better because of those small things we steal from others, while it can be part of a greater damage and something we just should not do, plainly because it is wrong.
Follow-up research with the same content but a slight twist was to give people tokens instead of cash first, which then had to be exchanged into money at another table only a couple of meters away. The result, the cheating doubled! That was probably the most troubling outcome of all tests, as our society is moving fast to plastic cards and chips instead of real money.
An artist career can be broken lightening fast if copyright breaches are to be discovered, but what is far more important than being caught is the moral issue of righteousness. We are supporting a creative industry in Australia by promoting the benefit of copyright for the common good, not just one persons.
So What are the Key Points of Copyright in this Country?
The Australian Copyright Council of Australia says:
Copyright automatically protects most artistic works that:
have resulted from some skill and effort;
are not simply copied from something else; and
recorded in “material form” (that is, in a form from which they could be reproduced: for example, by making a craft item, painting a picture, taking a photograph or making an artwork in digital form).
Artistic works covered by copyright include:
craftworks (such as mosaics, tapestries, jewellery and woven art).