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The end of copyright? Refute it thus!

The award ceremony of the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction is as good a place as any to reflect on the incredible strength of British publishing and the importance of copyright to writers and publishers. 

Each of the brilliant short-listed titles only came into existence thanks to the incredible skill, talent and dedication of their creators.  Writer after writer explained how their book was the result of many years of work, twelve in the case of winner Wade Davies's "Into the Silence". 

Opponents of copyright, be they of the abolitionist or erosionist variety, always have to gloss over this aspect of the creative process.  Insofar as they provide justifications for infringing copyright the open right fighters spuriously point to factors like expense, non-availability or their “right” to no-cost knowledge. 

But what they can never provide an argument against is the brute moral fact of the need to reward talent and pay for its enjoyment.  When one hears and sees and speaks to the creators of amazing works of erudition it is impossible not to be galled at the thought that anyone feels they have the right to enjoy their work for nothing without their permission. 

To expect creators to work as hard as they do without prospect of reward is to demote them to the status of slaves.  When the Pirate Party and its ilk celebrate the failure of measures to prevent them infringing copyright (as they do frequently) they are in fact expressing delight at avoiding having to reward excellence and diligence.

The Samuel Johnson prize is named in honour of the country's greatest ever writer of non-fiction.  But as well as his dictionary Dr Johnson is the author of one of the best rhetorical put downs in our history.  When asked his thoughts on George Berkeley's philosophy of Idealism and the belief that all things exist not as physical entities but as thoughts in the mind of God, Dr Johnson famously sharply kicked a heavy stone, with the words "I refute it thus!"

When confronted with the argument against the value of intellectual property to our economy and society, we can simply read the books and journals of produced by British authors and publishers and say exactly the same thing.


Written on Wednesday, 14 November 2012 16:52 by Richard Mollet

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