Why I started Right to Copy

When I set about crowdfunding the first issue of Right to Copy, I made the following notes:

I want to try an experiment.

I want to see whether people can or want to make art that might be consumed in a different way — and whether people want to consume it differently. To see it differently. To co-create, actually, and not to consume.

In five years, I want to open a publishing house for just that purpose. To create and distribute books, music, paintings and more; to hold debates on what art is and whether it can be collectively owned; to run workshops between artists and audiences in order for them to co-create, to literally produce new works and release them.

To try that out practically, by releasing art that is made for that purpose and to see what happens.

That isn’t what Right to Copy does — but it does set the stage for it, by challenging the system we have and by being open-minded (despite my own biases) about the successes of the system we already have.

I’m interested in opening the conversation up and getting as many people involved in what is currently a relatively obscure debate. After that, we’ll see how far we can go.

Looking at a law that goes well beyond the law

Right to Copy aims to promote and challenge what legal concepts do to art, artists and audiences — discussing authorship, ownership, originality, inspiration, plagiarism, piracy and more. That doesn’t mean the magazine isn’t here to trash copyright law per se.

For example, in issue #1’s first piece, Cory Doctorow argues that the question isn’t necessarily about copyright itself but that we’re now using rules designed for the arts to govern how people can interact with things like insulin pumps and thermostats. At the same time, Jonathan Lethem — in what I’d call an impassioned defence of plagiarism — says that for him, the adoption of a ‘gift economy’ and moving away from thinking of art as a commodity is far more important than an argument about intellectual property.

Those being the central arguments of issue #1’s flagship pieces, one could conclude that Right to Copy is about moving the conversation on from copyright, than about discussing copyright itself. While my interview with the artist Charles Avery touches on intellectual property — through a wider conversation about authorship — we steer well clear of legal talk. In my interview with designer Esther Meijer, we discuss her response to being copied by a large clothing brand but, again, the conversation is focused on culture rather than the law.

Legal precision is still important

Ideally, a law both reflects the culture and conditions it. This is true of copyright as any other law and I don’t mean to suggest that Right to Copy doesn’t concern itself with legal reform. It’s just that smarter, more educated people are making that argument while in my view, fewer people are making an argument that might appeal to a wider audience.

I hope to make that argument while legal minds make theirs, and hopefully to work together. To that end, being correct on the law is incredibly important to the magazine; it’s just not the driving force.

But the magazine speaks to social and cultural issues

The driving force, as overblown as it sounds, is to change society. I know the magazine can only make a comparatively small contribution to that change — through shifting people’s attitudes about art and about that producer-consumer relationship — but a small contribution is enough for me.

If in 2017 I can release four more issues of the magazine and promote its message through talks, collaborative workshops and my own writing, then I’m on my way to achieving my goal.

I have no idea what I’d call my publishing house. But first I need to see how much everybody wants it to exist.

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