Not the “Anti-Copyright Lobby”

A little while ago I received comments on one of my articles, from a particular individual who constantly misunderstood my position on music and money. He continually believed I was saying artists should work for free, when all I was saying is that in most cases where a musician prioritises the music over the money, the music is better. I was not suggesting that musicians stop selling recordings or doing paid gigs – I was merely advocating that artists consider the artistic merit first, before they consider the commercial merit, but by all means, do not discard the latter.

I replied to the comments, and at one point mentioned the late Greg Ham, of the Australian band Men At Work. For those who don’t know, there was a case brought against the band because Greg Ham played a short flute melody in about three places when recording the song “Down Under”. That melody was similar to another song called “Kookaburra”. The similarity was so close that, twenty five years or so after the original “Down Under” recording was released, they were sued for copyright infringement. Greg Ham became depressed, and his wife links his suicide to this depression.

I used this as an example of where a strong link between money and music is dangerous. To me, the artistic expression of Men at Work should have defeated the copyright claim. Unlike most other disciplines, Musicians do not have quotation rights. Everyone has to be paid and permission sought if you use even the slightest bit of copyrighted material.

The comment I received after this said:

The Greg Ham thing is a total abuse of the poor guy’s personal problems by the anti-copyright lobby.

Perhaps I should have replied properly, but at that time I was focused more in making the person understand the viewpoint I explained in the first paragraph. No matter how hard I tried, I seemed unable to make him understand that I was not against musicians making money, just against people creating music purely for the money. Make good music then sell it, don’t make poor music to sell.

But picking up on what he said – “the anti-copyright lobby” – I thought I would set the record straight:

We are not the anti-copyright lobby.

The length of the copyright term being advocated by a Pirate Party depends on the region. In Australia, our platform currently says 15 years, the United States Pirate Party appears to have agreed on 14 (as per the original US Constitution), the Finish Pirate Party has no more than 10 years, and the Swedish Pirate Party campaigns for 5.

Pirate Parties do not want to abolish copyright. We aren’t ”anti-copyright”. According to the ”European Pirate Parties Declaration of a basic platform for the European Parliamentary Election of 2009

– Copyright is commercial

Copyright only regulates commercial activity. (Local law usually defines “commercial activity” in sufficient detail.) Non-commercial activity is never regulated by copyright law.

For that five year period, the copyright holder has the opportunity to use a work in any way to make money and to prevent it being used commercially without permission. However they may not demand payment for, or prohibit any non-commercial use of, that work. For example: if you write a song and a band records a cover of that song on the album they are selling, you have a right to a cut of that money and can block their use of that song if you choose. However, if I were to simply do a recording of the song and put it on YouTube, where there was no profit derived, you could not expect me to pay and would not have the right to take legal action.

Bootlegging is another example. It would not be fair for a bootlegger to sell films without seeking permission and sharing the wealth generated with the copyright holder. However, in the case of the New York veteran who was burning DVDs and sending them to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan without generating any money, there should be no liability.

We feel the scope of what ”copyright infringement” includes needs to be redefined to permit users to share, remix and adapt content without the penalties currently being inflicted on them. We also feel that suspicion of file-sharing copyrighted content is not legitimate grounds for invasion of privacy either.

We are not “anti-copyright,” but pro-reform.


Author: Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer

Pirate Party Australia Deputy Secretary and Press Officer. Former member of the Pirate Parties International Court of Arbitration.