DEPARTMENTS


Who owns your creation?



It was one of those driveway moments; not the kind when the music takes you back and you can't bear to turn off the engine, but the kind where you find yourself staring at the car radio, wondering if you'd really just heard what you really just heard. The story was about a pending court case that challenges the very premise of copyright law. And in a few moments I'll get to why you should care.

In the music industry, the world was turned upside down when digital technology made it simple to download songs to a miniscule listening device - an mp3 player, an iPod, whatever. Record companies no longer functioned as "record" companies; artists whose contracts stipulated royalties for every physical recording sold lost millions because sales plummeted as it became easier to pirate the music.

What kept me in the driver's seat that afternoon was the account of a court battle that will attempt to define "ownership" when it comes to such downloads - and what that ownership means if the "owner" wants to resell the music. It gets really confusing, as such laws do, but the long and short of it is this: If you download a song legally, meaning you've paid for the privilege, you "own" that particular recording. You don't own the original, but you do own a copy. The question is: What if you decide you want to sell your copy to someone else? One of the puzzles is whether it's possible to determine if the copy you "own" will then leave your possession, or if you've been able to make additional copies for resale - thus violating some clause of copyright law.

I'm glad I'm not a lawyer, and I don't pretend to understand all the gray areas. What seems to be pretty black and white, though - it's okay to purchase the music; it's not okay to download it without paying - isn't really the point here. And the reselling of the digital files just confuses me. What made me stare at the dashboard was a comment from a listener, who contacted the station to share her opinion.

"Copyright laws should be abolished," she spat. "They only protect the elite artists who make millions of dollars just because they 'created' the music. That's [expletive deleted]. Music belongs to everyone. Laws that protect the 'artists' are obscene."

That attitude scares the living daylights out of me, especially because it seems to be growing ever more pervasive these days. Why should the artist - the creator - profit from his or her own work? Music/art/information "belongs" to everyone.

Okay, let's apply that logic to plants. You've worked to create a new cultivar, or you spent untold resources in plant exploration to bring a plant to market. You and your company have worked hard to launch a marketing campaign, to distribute your product. Now your competition buys one plant, clones it and resells thousands of them - cutting into your profits. Your competitor purchased the "original" plant legally, yes? So what if they want to spread the wealth? Plants belong to everyone.

This has happened, certainly more than we'd like to think, but likely much more than we'll ever know. We've got the laws to protect us, as difficult as the legalese may seem. It's the attitude that's tougher to swallow.

Yes, it's a joy to share the glory of music and the beauty of plants. The aesthetic belongs to everyone. But I'll never understand the thinking that "elite" creators shouldn't profit from their talent and hard work. Try explaining that someone actually has to work to create the product - you won't get far.

I know I'm preaching to the choir - right? - but let's keep that in mind. Their work has value. Yours does, too.