Orwell, Trotsky, and the TPPA
Brett was founding a new publishing imprint called Atuanui Press, which would be dedicated to important writing from the past, and he was looking for material. I wanted to show the relevance of Orwell's masterpiece to twenty-first century New Zealand by writing an introduction and set of annotations that linked its themes to laws like the post-9/11 Terrorism Suppression Act and events like the police raid on Tuhoe Country in 2007, the confiscation of Jimmy O'Dea's trousers, and the multiplication of shopping malls in Auckland (Ninety Eighty-Four is, after all, a satire of Western consumerism, as well as Stalinist tyranny).
I also wanted to advertise some of our homegrown works of Orwellian fiction, like Craig Harrison's neglected 1970s novel Broken October, which imagines a civil war between Maori guerrillas and a dictatorial neo-colonial state, and MK Joseph's The Time of Achamoth, which takes its readers to a time travel station run by British special forces out of a particularly desolate corner of the King Country.
strengthen the grip of copyright on books and on other cultural artefacts like movies, songs, and computer games. Under the terms of the TTPA, a text will be bound by copyright until seventy years after its author's demise. Ninety Eighty-Four and the rest of Orwell's texts will be out of reach until at least 2021. A small publisher like Brett Cross could never afford the fat fee that the managers of Orwell's estate would demand for the right to republish one of his books.
Warner Brothers and other big players in the American entertainment industry lobbied hard for the extension of copyright during TPPA negotiations. These companies own the rights to many of the world's great movies, songs, and television programmes, and want to collect royalties for as long as they can. Warner Brothers has even suggested that copyright should last a century after an author's death. Complicated corporate-driven legislation means that books often take a long time to throw off copyright in America. Ninety Eighty-Four won't be free to republish there until 2044. In 2009 American Kindle users had their copies of Orwell's masterpiece wiped.
Some defenders of posthumous copyright claim that it 'protects' the dependents of an author from the depredations of the free market. Authors should certainly have the right to royalties from their work while they live, and perhaps their families have a right to an income for a couple of decades longer than that. When copyright on a text lasts for many decades after an author's death, though, it often ends up generating royalties for people with a very tenuous connection to the author, and very little interest in honouring that author's work and worldview.
Before his murder in Mexico in 1940, the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky left the rights to some of his writings to his allies in the American Socialist Workers Party. During his exile in Mexico Trotsky had acted as a mentor to the SWP, and members of the organisation had helped publish and sell his texts. In the decades after Trotsky's death, though, the SWP slowly declined in size and importance. Former members complained that the party's leadership had become avaricious and corrupt, and was spending the royalties from Trotsky's texts and other revolutionary classics on luxury apartments. When the internet era arrived, and cyberactivists tried to add Trotsky's works to a burgeoning online archive of Marxist writing, the SWP threatened to sue them for breach of copyright. I don't think Trotsky would have been amused.
Chris Trotter offers some other reasons to oppose the TPPA here.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]