Thursday, 11 April 2013

"X" - Cultural icon or private property?

BFTF recently participated in a charity fundraising event dressed in the costume of a a-well-known-childrens-character-henceforth-known-as-"X" and had a great time - it was heartening to see so many children smile on seeing "X". But the resulting blog post drew the ire of lawyers from "The Copyright Group" who said they represented the Paddington Bear Company. They were upset that BFTF had worn a costume without any "permission or licence" from them (a modifed "approved" version of the blog post can be seen here and the full dialogue can be found at the end of the post).

BFTF is very, very annoyed about this, for the reasons shown below:

Copyright for over a hundred years
Current copyright law in the UK grants copyright for 70years AFTER THE AUTHORS DEATH, meaning that much material could remain under copyright for well over 100years.

Yet, if BFTF were to invent a life saving cure for cancer, it would remain under patent protection for just 20years.

Does that make any sense to you?

The chilling effect of this law on cultural creativity (which is all the UK has left now that it doesn't make ships, trains or other manufactured goods) cannot be overstated. As an article in the Guardian points out "How would the creativity of society be affected if we had to pay for every idea we lifted from Wikipedia or a painting or piece of music to express in a different way? Current laws would have wiped out most of Elizabethan drama at a stroke."

And the value of creativity that comes from works entering the public domain has been recognised by Cambridge University economist Rufus Pollock, who has calculated where the balance between copyright (to incentivise artists) and the public domain (where works can inspire creativity) - and has found 14 years to be the ideal term.

BFTF as "X"

The effect of the copyright jackboot on community
In the specific instance involving BFTF, the warning shot from the laywers has stopped a whole host of activities from happening, all of which were for the common good of society.

BFTF wanted to shout out on Twitter about the great reception he had received as "X", both from the Muslim and non-Muslim communities - but is too scared to now.

BFTF wanted to circulate the blog post, complete with pictures, as an encourgement for others, especially those in minority groups, to claim some of Britains wonderful cultural heritage as their own and use it for the common good - but with the photos having been eviscerated, there seems little point in doing this now.

BFTF had a great fondness for "X", but now feels that, rather than being a British Icon that everyone can love and feel a part of, "X" is in fact owned by a paranoid company that will come knocking at your door within 24hrs of your having the temerity to engage with the character in any way that is not previously approved by them - and if you are a charity other than their single approved one - Action Medical Research - then it won't matter what you do, the answer is always going to be "no".

BFTF wanted to spend yesterday evening writing about a wonderful public lecture he attended at Nottingham Trent University recently, but instead has had to spend the time responding to the lawyers and writing the post you are reading - so there has been a significant opportunity cost involved here too.

The sheer pettiness of the lawyers acting on behalf of "X" has also been demoralising, in particular their comment that, once BFTF had turned all the images of "X" into silhouettes, their client was "happy to let matters rest there". It all makes Mr Burns look like Father Christmas.

A passing motorist gets the thumbs up

A Proposal for "Cultural Icon Status"
Of course, it is easy to get mad, but somewhat harder to suggest something that will improve the situation.

Aside from changing the outrageous copyright laws, perhaps there is some merit is allowing characters to achieve "Cultural Icon Status" - this would be an award given to characters or other artworks that had become part of the country's cultural heritage. In return for this badge of approval, companies would allow the character to enter the public domain in some, non-profit, ways and be used by communities and charities for events and fundraising activities.

Many emails are likely to flow from this post...

Email sent to local MP explaining that the email from lawyers had resulted in a loss of enthusiasm for engagement with British cultural icons and would reduce possibilities for community cohesion work.

Email sent to The Paddington Bear Company asking them whether they approve of the lawyers going after some bloke waving at cars in a fundraising event?

Email sent to Action Medical Research asking them if they are happy that lawyers are using the exclusivity of their agreement with the Paddington Bear Company to ruthlessly stamp down on small time charity fundraising events (resent 6th May).

Dialogue with "The Copyrights Group"

Original email from "The Copyrights Group":

"I am writing to you regarding a recent internet blog which I believe was initiated by you regarding some fund raising activities on behalf of BFTF. The fund raising activities involved a Paddington Bear costume which was being used in public.

If I may introduce myself my company, The Copyrights Group Limited, acts as the worldwide licensing agent for Paddington Bear. We represent Paddington and Company Limited which owns all the intellectual property rights including all copyrights relating to Paddington Bear. Paddington and Company was set up by Michael Bond Paddington's creator many years ago to protect Paddington Bear and is now run by his daughter. Your blog has been brought to my attention as we have not issued any permission or licence for this use of Paddington Bear which is necessary and I am therefore writing to you about this.

As you can no doubt appreciate Paddington Bear is a popular British character and as a result we get many requests from members of the public and organisations for the use of Paddington to raise money for worthy and charitable causes. Over 20 years ago Michael Bond decided that rather than have the charitable use of Paddington randomly managed it would be better to concentrate his charitable use to the benefit of a single cause. Consequently an agreement was entered into with Action Medical Research, which is a leading children's charity funding medical research which particularly affects children. This charity has the exclusive use of Paddington Bear to help raise money for their work and as a result when we find Paddington Bear being used by other charitable causes we have to write and ask that they cease their use of Paddington for this reason.

I am unclear from the blog whether you are the head of the BFTF charity or officially associated with it. If you are merely a supporter of the charity then if you can direct me to whoever heads BFTF I will write to them to raise this matter with them and need trouble you no further.

Apart from the conflict with our authorised charity we are also concerned about the use of a Paddington Bear costume which we had not previously seen for creative approval. If the costume was home made then that would explain its appearance but if it had been hired from somewhere then we need to track this down so as to prevent its further use as unfortunately it does not meet the standard of appearance that we require. Additionally, as I am sure you will understand upon reflection, with a children's character it is important that any costume appearance is appropriately managed so that the cosume only acts in character and does not do anything inappropriate. Safeguarding children is a serious consideration for us. I would be grateful therefore if you could advise the origin of the costume that was used.

I am sorry to write regarding this matter but I trust you will understand our position and that we have to look after the interests both of our authorised charity as well as Paddington Bear himself. Provided that we are able to prevent any recurrence of the use of Paddington by BFTF in this way or further use of the costume then we will be happy to let the matter rest there."
BFTF replied as follows:
I have amended the blog-post to remove all reference to Paddington Bear and hope you can confirm by return that the post is now acceptable to you ( I have no easy way of determining the provenance of the costume in question but can advise that, as a precautionary measure, I will not take part in any events featuring Paddington Bear in future. Again, could you please confirm by return that the blog-post is now acceptable to you.
And received a final response as follows :
"Thank you for your prompt response to my e-mail. In light of the action you have taken to resolve this matter my client is happy to let matters rest there."