Copyright – What is It?

Artists, writers, innovators, and entrepreneurs…in fact creative and business people from all backgrounds; mostly those starting out, but even some with a level of experience in their field behind them, have at some point or another realized they’ve had misconceptions about what copyright is, how it works, for what types of creative work, and what it can do for them.

So, let’s get started, and perhaps with the most obvious questions anyone may have about copyright; what is it, and why does it exist in the first place?

Let’s start with the latter question first.

Why copyright exists

Imagine this scenario; you build a cottage, say, to your own design. It’s a beautiful, Tudor-style, thatched roof affair, with a small, well-kept garden, and a breath-taking view of rolling, verdant green hills offering spectacular sunsets in the evening. Now imagine someone finds out about your unique, very attractive cottage one day, and moves in while you’re out. You come home to suddenly find you can’t get back in, and this squatter inside is claiming they own your house, that they built it even, and worse, they’ve started renting out the back bedroom for a pretty penny. To cap it all, they’re now building duplicate cottages matching your design down the road to sell and earn even more money. Now imagine there was no law in existence to give you the opportunity to re-claim ownership of your property and no means to stop the usurper or win restitution from them for their actions.

Transfer this – admittedly crude – analogy to creativity, and that’s why copyright exists.

I like how the Irish Patents Office(1) puts it on their website with regards the Nature of Copyright:

“First, persons who create works of the intellect or who invest in their creation and dissemination are entitled as a matter of human right to secure a fair return for their creativity and investment.

Secondly, unless the rights of creators and investors to a fair return are supported, the community as a whole would be impoverished by the fact that, in many cases, these works would not be created or developed.”(2)

Our civilization progresses through creativity and 香港知識產權 innovation. But for creators to create, they need to eat, they need to live, earn money, receive recognition for their work and the stimulus to keep striving when the going gets tough. Copyright exists therefore to make this happen and help the innovators earn revenue from their creations. Copyright exists to promote creativity and help creative people live from their creativity. Copyright exists because it makes creative and business sense for copyright to exist.

If a writer earns money from their work, they can earn the funds to keep writing. If an artist earns money from the licensing and manufacturing of images of artwork, they have income so they can invest their time productively in more projects. Furthermore, copyright exists to encourage innovation and prosperity, for society as a whole as well as for the individual doing the innovating.

Take copyright away and you effectively tie the hands behind creatives’ backs. Imagine a world culturally, creatively, industrially and economically deprived because its innovators weren’t given the reward for – and the power to protect the use of – their endeavours.

With that in mind, lets put my cottage analogy into proper context now; you’re a creative person, aren’t you? Imagine every time you created something, someone could come along and copy it, claim it as their own and very likely make money from it, and without fear of consequences because there was no law making their actions punishable. You’d very soon give up creating wouldn’t you? What’d be the point of all that hard work when others could reap the credit and the reward?