I have finally released all my work here into the public domain for good. I first released some of my work onto the public domain about three years ago, but then wavered, and put a creative commons license on new work for a time instead. But I have come full circle now and decided that it is the best way to express what I believe to be true. The whole copyright industry seems designed to make it difficult for poetry to get out there, be talked about, passed around, shredded, analysed. It makes no sense to me. The argument extends to all avenues of creativity, patents and trademarks but I’m not going to try and change the whole world today.
But how can creativity be rewarded? What’s the new model? Well, there does have to be a way to recognise creativity when it happens, and then facilitate it happening again. The focus needs to stay on the origin, not the product. Follow the smoke to the fire, something good is happening there. There needs to be a way to prevent fraud, passing off an idea as your own – but mechanisms already exist for that. There also needs to be a ‘right to remain secret’ for unfinished work, and for those who aren’t ready to release their creations. Using secrecy (in a way similar to privacy laws) could provide many of the benefits that patents and copyright are meant to afford. Once in production, released, the chains should come off, so that the full benefits of invention can flow to all.
So supposing I was a great poet(?!), but all my work was in the public domain, how would I make a living? Well I could continue to scratch by as I do now in the office. But if people really liked my stuff, really valued it, then probably they’d value my reading it, my talking about it. Established poets and writers already make a lot of their income through readings, lectures, running courses, being the ‘in house’ poet etc. None of that would change. If I wanted to go commercial, I could write poems for people on request, for a fee. The poems would still be released into the public domain but my pen and my time could be bought, just as if I was a fantastic carpenter. I could happily write dedications, do limited signed or handwritten editions of my poems etc which would be of value for their aesthetic and their direct connection to the poet. None of this would require any sort of copyright to be in place. Copyright would get in the way, if anything.
In the meantime, publishers could concentrate on the business of publishing. Already, much of their source material is public domain – the old poets. Imagine if new poetry was as cheap to publish as old poetry. It might actually be worthwhile getting a few more collections together. Publishers could pick and chose much more easily – they could concentrate on either bulk collections of new material sold cheaply, or they could work with poets for small print runs which would still be of value to collectors for their quality and connection to the poet. Both types of publishing would benefit poets – being published in any way is of benefit to a poet’s reputation, and once the reputation is established, the ability to make living from poetry increases. At present, it is hardly worthwhile for anyone to publish poetry, it’s expensive to buy, poets don’t make any money from it, publisher’s don’t make any money from it. I can’t see how it can get any worse. Injecting some sense and freedom into the system can only help.
Online is the perfect medium for poetry anyway – a poem stands up fine being read on the screen. They are easy to transmit, blogs seem designed for them. But it is hard for collectors to showcase new poetry if they need to contact every poet for permission to use a piece. It’s hard to pass poems or bits of poems around when the author needs to approve every transaction – whether there is a financial component or not. Who is this benefiting exactly? It’s making it hard for everyone, poets, online publishers. Every poem has a chain attached to it – take the chains of copyright off and let poems be free! And see what happens – maybe finally poetry will come into its own. It should do on the internet, which is the perfect media for it, a dream platform for poetry if there ever was one.
Poetry is the most explicit of the arts – less bogged down in the sensual like music and visual arts, less circumambulatory than a novel. A poem – even a few lines – can cut through so much. They are the knives in the dark room of ignorance. And good poets like good assassins are hard to find. It takes a long time to develop as a poet, poets often come into their own late in life. Copyright is strangling good poets, silencing them. It is like anaesthesia. Great poems are lost, trapped in small press publications that never see the light of day. Who is going to write to all these poets and ask them if we can publish them again? Small presses? They are struggling to pay for all last year’s decisions, propping up their favourite few. Copyright weighs them down too.
The internet is already changing people’s expectations, it feels natural to be able to access all sorts of information and creation for free, and it is natural. The rules are already bending under this expectation. But it is going to take those who are complicit with the vested interests to flick the switch and change things. I don’t know what is ahead, and I know that these sorts of changes can be painful to those already plugged into the system, but this is what the future feels like to me.