Dear author-members of the Poldovian Academy of Literature. As so often in the past few years the Praesidium of the Academy wishes to bring forward proposals which are simultaneously so minor that they are unworthy of your attention and so important that failure to pass them will lead to unspeakable catastrophe.
Our proposals echo the words of our great comrade-minister Tsanberi. `When a man inherits wealth it belongs to him. When he discovers an idea it belongs to mankind as represented by our great Poldovian Academies.' Until recently the copyright of our authors belonged to the authors themselves. Not only did this run counter to the views of comrade-minister Tsanberi but it also created great confusion both in the outside world and in the Praesidium.
We have already introduced transparent and equitable arrangements for writers of instruction manuals and we now propose to extend these transparent and equitable arrangements for authors of non-fiction books. Some of you fiction writers worry that you too may be subject to transparent and equitable arrangements. I say to you, have no fear. We in the Praesidium know that whilst writers of non-fiction are merely useful, the writers of fiction are the glory of Poldovia. We swear to you, splendid fiction writers of Poldovia, that we have, at present, absolutely no intention of making transparent and equitable arrangements for you.
As a great Poldovian once said `A man who can order someone else to make two blades of grass grow where one grew before will deserve more of humanity than the whole tedious crowd of inventors and intellectuals.' It would be contrary to the natural order of things to have rich authors and our proposals ensure that the natural order of things will not be disturbed. Suppose for example that a book earns 10,000 zorbals a year and the author pays our glorious Poldovian taxes at 40%. In the first year the author will get 5,400 zorbals, in the third year 4,200 zorbals in the seventh 3,000 zorbals and so on until in the eleventh year he will see 2,000 of an original 10,000 zorbals. We in the Praesidium feel passionately that an effective rate of tax of 80% reflects the gratitude that all comrades feel to Poldovia and to our Academy. We wish that we too could pay an effective rate of tax of 80% but, unfortunately, we in the Praesidium are not authors and this glorious opportunity must pass us by.
Some simple minded comrades have suggested that Poldovian authors might leave to join academies in other lands. We reply that it is well known that there do not exist any academies which treat their authors better than we do. It is also well known that only outstanding authors can join these academies (which as we said before do not exist). Since we have only a few outstanding authors only a few of our authors can leave. Comrade-authors, I say to you, we will be well rid of these trouble makers. There are very few true individuals and Poldovia will be better off without them.
Some comrades are troubled by the thought that if writers of non-fiction receive less money for their work they will work with less keenness. The statement that authors will work better if they are paid properly is superficially attractive but is unprovable and a policy based on assertion and and belief is hard to justify. May I remind you, comrades of the old Poldovian saying `To the cat the cream, to the donkey the cudgel.' Some people do indeed respond to incentives (the higher members of the Praesidium for instance must be paid the rate for the job) but with authors and intellectuals it is the other way around. It used to be said by thoughtless people that the members of our academies accepted low incomes in exchange for great freedoms. In the last twenty years the Poldovian academies have much reduced the freedoms of their members without much increasing their incomes and yet I and the presidents of our sister academies see nothing but joyous faces and observe nothing but increased zeal. Who can doubt that further reducing the rights of our comrade-members will lead them to redouble their efforts.
Moreover, comrades, is not the question of who owns a copyright a false question? What matters is not ownership but doing the best we can for our books. One day a peasant was walking through one of our great Poldovian forests when he came across a gold piece. He started to run home thinking of the things that he could buy for his family but before he could get home a robber set upon him and took the gold piece. The peasant was very sad and often cursed the memory of the robber. However, the robber invested the gold piece and became a very rich man who used some of his wealth to build a new school for his town. When he heard this the peasant was deeply ashamed of his selfish feelings. As we say in Poldovia `Property belongs to him who can make best use of it'.
The Praesidium has observed with sadness in its heart that some comrade-authors have fallen victims to predatory external parties and may have been persuaded to sign unequal contracts. (Thus some agents have tried to take control of copyright, others to take the lion's share of royalties or to prevent heirs enjoying any inherited rights.) Our proposals will prevent our authors from signing unequal contracts with anyone except the Academy.
In future all business concerning non-fiction books will be carried out by the Bureau of Contracts. There are many advantages to this procedure.
(1) The experience of all countries throughout history is that the best way to encourage creativity is to channel it through a bureaucracy specially constructed for that purpose.
(2) The Academy is better able to negotiate with outside companies than individuals. All comrades will remember how in the matter of our new accounting machines we ran rings round our suppliers forcing them to deliver a system unparalleled anywhere else in cost and efficiency.
(3) All the Bureaux of the Academy operate with incredible smoothness and competence. But even amidst such perfection our Bureau of Contracts with its famous slogan `If it is not too difficult we will try and do it quite quickly' stands out. We are sure that all authors who come into contact with the Bureau of Contracts will find it an unforgettable experience.
We have not made these changes to increase the short term revenues of the Academy. Indeed the cost of expanding the Bureau of Contracts will ensure that there is no short term gain. However there is an expectation that in the long term we should get something. As the old Poldovian proverb puts it `Better ten Zorbals in my pocket than a hundred in yours.'
The Bureau will not normally change current practice under which the author does the actual work of writing the book. The only difference that most authors will notice is the reduced payment and the additional form filling. However, the Bureau may sometimes take a more active part. The sales of a history of England under the first two Edwards could be much increased by giving it the title to `From Firm Sword to Red Hot Poker'. More intensive work (in which the author might not wish to be involved) could convert a book on `Adolescent Angst in a Post-Capitalist Society' into a popular and money spinning television family comedy. If we can not get anybody to publish a book on any terms whatsoever we may return the copyright to the author.
Since we will own the copyright you will have no rights of any kind but in the event of a dispute we are prepared to set up a special court to tell you so.
Some soft hearted comrades have suggested that authors should retain some rights over their books. But, comrades, it would be an intolerable burden on our hard working Bureau of Contracts if it had to consult an author before arranging a contract with a publisher. Moreover, comrades, we might wish to sell all our future copyrights for a number of years to Mr Murdoch and we understand that he does not take kindly to nit picking constraints on his own use of his own property.
We did not consult you comrade-authors when constructing these proposals. As the old proverb goes `Do not ask the frogs before draining the pond'. We consult you now but we remind you of another proverb of our Poldovian folk `Ten dogs may bark for all I care' (or as we will soon say `Fifty dogs may bark for all I care').
Copyright Tom Körner, 22nd October 2002
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