Kathy Bowrey, Copyright, Creativity, Big Media and Cultural Value: Incorporating the Author

Routledge, 218 pp., ISBN: 9780429201035, h/bk, AUS$252.00, e/bk, AUS$62.00

According to the Copyright Agency, copyright is ‘a form of intellectual property that protects the original expression of ideas. It enables creators to manage how their content is used’. This sounds not only sensible, but very straightforward. If you produce a thing that is new, then you should have some control over that thing. You can keep it, reproduce it, share it, gift it or sell it. Some people are not especially concerned about making money from their copyright, but these same people might want to control their creation in some way. To maintain its integrity, or to prevent others from profiting unfairly from a creation. For some – authors, designers, photographers and many more – earning revenue from copyright is essential to survive. Again, this all makes sense. If someone lets you use something they have created, follow the rules, add a footnote and be on your way. If a payment is involved, then don’t be tardy.  So, why then does the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) come in at nearly 700 pages? Well, it’s complicated.

Professor Kathy Bowrey’s latest book Copyright, Creativity, Big Media & Cultural Value: Incorporating the Author, explains some of the complexities about copyright. Most of us have an inkling when we are breaking copyright, but it can be easy to push thoughts of wrongdoing aside. It’s a victimless crime. It’s all about massive media companies making ridiculous sums of money and men in grey suits deciding what we should all watch, read and listen to. Not quite. This is just one of the myths that Bowrey deals with, as she explains that: ‘corporate greed is presumed to rule decision-making, the creator is addressed as a noble but disempowered victim rather than an agent of their own destiny, and the public are characterised as chumps fed a homogenised diet dictated from London, New York and Hollywood’ (p.1). Copyright is, however, much more than a creator’s private property right or a tool for powerful corporations to control what creator’s produce and, by extension, what we consume.

Bowrey provides an overview of copyright and offers a suite of important discussions on the practicalities of copyright and how some of the major changes, such as advances in different technologies, have contributed to the evolution of copyright laws. The international exploitation of copyright is also addressed. Some of this material stands alone as neat summaries, some material adds depth to the case studies that make up the bulk of this book. This is done through careful analyses of law, of opinions about the law and reviews of various business archives.

Bowrey’s choices for her case studies are inspired. For example, in looking at Fred Fargus, writing as Hugh Conway, and his novel Called Black (1884), Fergus Hume’s The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886) and Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet (1887), Bowrey explains that ‘copyright is not a thing owned by the author’. Rather, copyright ‘is a legal relation with many moving parts, linking the author directly to the producer and, indirectly, to distributors and consumers’ (p.29). These literary studies also unpack how authors are not always as badly done by as they claim. Hume famously sold his copyright for the fabulously successful The Mystery of a Hansom Cab for £50. This is, usually, where the story ends. Not anymore. Bowrey has completely disrupted the narrative of Hume’s financial misfortunate in re-writing this famous tale of copyright and a blockbuster whodunnit in a way that is as exciting as the original novel.
Another compelling case study looks at the roles ‘of celebrity, women and consumer markets in the recording industry’. Focusing on the question ‘does a gramophone maker deserve a copyright’ and Dame Nellie Melba – a clever and talented woman – Bowrey unpacks issues associated with gendered understandings of business and of law (pp.8-9, 166). Other household names, including Margaret Atwood and Banksy, flesh out this work with examples that can make a traditionally dry subject very engaging.

Some of the passages are necessarily dense. The history of copyright laws – including the ways in which these laws have been manipulated – has ensured that copyright has become a challenging area for creators and consumers, despite it being something we are influenced by every day. Yet, there is nothing in this book that is beyond the understanding of the average non-lawyer. Indeed, this work will be of value to students and researchers across a wide range of disciplines as well as to anyone who is interested in learning about copyright and wanting a more nuanced understanding than the most common conception that copyright equals: ‘death of creator, plus seventy years’.

To buy this work in hardcopy is an investment, and it is sure to become a useful reference book on many library shelves. The eBook is more attractively priced for the individual and will suit readers looking for a certain case study or wanting to follow a particular thread. The volume also contains several handsome illustrations, extensive notes and a useful index.

Copyright, Creativity, Big Media and Cultural Value is an exceptional piece of scholarship that Bowrey was uniquely qualified to produce. It is a fine example of what can be done when a leader in their field combines experience and knowledge with an innovative approach together with detailed and patient archival research.

 

Reviewed by Dr Rachel Franks, January 2020

For a preview of the book or to purchase online, visit the Routledge website here.

 

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