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Stories, songs, pictures, movies, plays, etc. are all examples of creative expressions. But what is a creative expression? Is it an intangible asset, a possession to be owned and traded?

No. If it were then copyright law would merely confirm this status, empowering normal property law to govern. But this is not the case. There are distinct differences: an expiry date after which the creative expression is in the public domain, certain rights for non-rights holders called “fair use”. These do not apply to normal possessions, why do they apply here?

Essentially, creative expressions belong to everyone. They are a form of dialog a culture has with itself, between members of that culture. Even if there was only one creator of a particular creative expression it is derived from the experiences that creator has of being in that culture.

That being so what does copyright actually mean?

Copyright law recognises that it is in the public interest if talented artists can devote more of their time to creative tasks, to be able to earn a living from their ‘labours’. Thus, through copyright law, the ability for artists to trade their creative expressions as if they were temporarily normal assets came into being. Creative expressions were monetorised, creativity was incentivised.

So far, so good.

But the world doesn’t just have creators and consumers. There are also middle men. Companies that are supposed to facilitate creative expressions through marketing and distribution.

However, these facilitators are simply businesses, running under the rules of fairly unrestrained capitalism. Which means that their agenda, as with any business, is to maximise profits. Sometimes that agenda clashes with the agenda originally enshrined in copyright law leading to undesirable consequences.

Sometimes facilitators will suppress some creative expressions that might otherwise compete with other creative expressions they wish to promote. They may block distribution through some channels in order to favour other, more profitable, channels ... even if those other channels don’t adequately meet the needs of consumers. They may even throw up impediments to lawful use to encourage purchase of duplicate editions or media. In many cases creators have become relegated to the role of employees in the facilitators’ organisations.

The tail is now firmly wagging the dog.

I write this, not as a consumer, but as (in my own small way) a creator.  But I don’t know the solution.