TOP ONLINE PIRACY Act (SOPA), Protect IP Act (PIPA), and Bill C-11 have been all over the news in recent weeks, with many opinions expressed from nearly all sides of the debate. Yet in the midst of these discussions, one important group seems to be surprisingly underrepresented—the artists themselves.
This week, the Fulcrum caught up with former Fulcrum contributor and current professional writer David Robbeson to shed some light on the perspective of those this legislation would affect the most.
As a writer, Robbeson has had many features picked up by publications such as Esquire and Cosmo, and four of his screenplays have been turned into feature-length films with multimillion-dollar budgets, like 2006’s The Last Sect.
Despite the amount of money put into producing his work and the widespread consumption of the films, Robbeson has not profited from his work in the way that one might expect.
“On any day, you can find [The Last] Sect airing in Rome, or Amman, or Aukland, or find illegal downloads of it in Russian, or Romanian, or French,” says Robbeson in an email to the Fulcrum.
“The last I bothered to count, there were literally versions (either dubbed or subtitled) for 25 countries. None of that, obviously, does me five cents of good.”
Most people who download movies, books, or music illegally don’t stop to consider electronic files are no different than physical goods when it comes to theft.
“Pirating something it took someone a year to make is a big deal in my opinion. You have no more right to steal media files than you do a meal in a restaurant or a pair of shoes,” says Robbeson.
While pirating has cost Robbeson thousands of dollars, legislation like Bill C-11 wouldn’t necessarily fix the situation, as laws need to be created that better reward the artists producing the creative content rather than the companies distributing it.
“The way the system works in Canada, I get zero residuals right now. Zero,” explains Robbeson. “There are a number of copyright issues where, to my mind, the writing is already on the wall. Unless you have a lawyer, these so-called ‘laws’ mean virtually nothing at the moment—not to the individual.”
These issues have come up again for Robbeson as e-copies of his first novel, Another Starry Night, became available on Amazon.com in January. The book, an intellectual thriller, centres on the discovery of a forged Van Gogh painting. Robbeson believes many will enjoy his novel.
“My book is a page-turner with a lot more thinking than the genre usually provides,” says Robbeson. “This isn’t about vampires who do karate. Hannah, [the novel’s protagonist], is a very smart young woman figuring out that there’s more than one path through it all. Plus, it’s set against a sexy backdrop of international art theft.”
It may be surprising that Robbeson has decided against embedding his book with software that would restrict its copy, but he explained such a decision would not be the answer to the current copyright debate—and a writer’s first concern is to be read.
“There isn’t a writer anywhere who would begrudge personal-use copying,” notes Robbeson.
“When it turns into a stream which undercuts that writer’s ability to earn a living, on the other hand, it’s another story.”