Friday, September 5, 2008

I'm an illustrator... and I vote.

During a campaign season, I'm always looking for some sign of how a candidate might impact me directly as a freelance illustrator.

This year's sign came when Republican nominee John McCain displayed complete contempt for copyright law — at a time when copyright is very much in the forefront of illustrators' and other creatives' minds because of orphan works legislation pending before Congress.

McCain, apparently thinking that intellectual property is his for the taking, used Jackson Browne's "Running on Empty" in a campaign ad mocking Democratic nominee Barack Obama. Browne, a musician well known for his progressive views, has sued for copyright infringement.

While the ad is believed to have run on television in Ohio and Pennsylvania, it also appeared on the internet until it was removed as a result of a cease-and-desist order.

But few, if any illustrators have the resources to fight copyright infringement in the way that Jackson Browne has. (And the orphan works legislation, as it's currently written, provides less incentive and makes it more difficult for artists to pursue infringement claims, while making it easier for infringers to infringe.)

And the fact that the ad made it to the internet underlines one of the realities that illustrators, musicians and other artists face in the internet age: the ongoing abuse of intellectual property, particularly on the internet, where people seem to assume they can grab an image or a song and use it for their own purposes, without permission and without compensation. A presidential candidate should understand that intellectual property is just that — the artist's property — and that artists make a living by selling rights to use that property. The orphan works legislation, which does have some merit, weakens artist's legitimate rights as it is now written. I prefer a candidate who understands intellectual property, not one who steals it.

As Browne's attorney Lawrence Iser says of McCain's use of music without permission, "it's ridiculous and it's setting a terrible example." [1]

This is not the first time the McCain campaign has done this. In fact, it's almost a habit. McCain's been sued by Abba (for using "Take a Chance on Me")[2], Frankie Valli ("Can't Take My Eyes Off of You")[3], John Mellencamp ("Pink Houses" and "My Country")[4], John Hall ("Still the One")[5] and most recently, Mike Myers of Wayne's World (a "We're Not Worthy" sketch used in a YouTube ad)[6].

While both candidates have issued position papers that uphold copyright law and acknowledge the need to deal with new copyright issues in the digital age, McCain's repeated contempt for copyright and lack of respect for copyright holders suggests he has no understanding or appreciation of the issue. Barack Obama, a generation younger and considerably more computer-savvy, notes that "intellectual property is to the digital age what physical goods were to the industrial age"[7] demonstrates the understanding that McCain either doesn't have, or does have but chooses to ignore.

And further, Obama actually addresses other issues of importance to artists, such as supporting increased funding for the NEA, providing affordable health care to artists, and supporting the Artist-Museum Partnership Act which would allow artists to deduct the fair market value of their work, rather than just the costs of the materials, when they make charitable contributions.

It's tough to make a living as an illustrator. But I chose to be — in the words of Jackson Browne — a happy idiot and struggle for the legal tender. I believe Barack Obama will make that struggle just a little easier.

references: [1], [2], [3], [4a], [4b], [5], [6], [7]photo credit

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