Posted on

A Previous Copyright Rant (and nothing’s changed)

This article, written in 2011, was published in South African Stitches Magazine.

It’s supposed to be autumn, but here we sit in hot and humid weather having been warned on the weather report last night to expect a high discomfort index. I’m tired of summer. We’ve had enough now and need some cooler weather. I usually find my trip to Hobby X in Johannesburg is a welcome relief from Natal’s hot and humid early March weather, but this year the Reef got hit by a heat wave during that week, so no respite. However, it was still good to be at Hobby X. It’s a place where we meet up with our friends from all over the country, catch up with news, share a few glasses of wine and supper, then return home feeling happy. And this year was no different, albeit that I received an interesting phone call from Dude the day after the show closed.

There I was at The Dome, supervising the loading of our boxes to be freighted home having had a successful show, knowing that my husband had flown off to Cape Town on business and that Dude was looking after things at home. Life was good. But you should never, ever get too comfortable. Things were not going well for Dude. He’d had a ‘small’ accident in the Patriarch’s car the night before. Could I please pass on the glad tidings to Father? It’s always the mother that has to break that sort of news, isn’t it? On asking questions – once I had established that he was not injured – it turns out that Bru needed to be taken home late on Sunday night and Dude decided that, instead of using the petrol in his own car, he would use the petrol in Father’s car. It was standing there, not being used, so why not? I could have told him why. On the way home he hit a hole in the road that should have been covered with a metal plate, it burst a front tyre, he lost control and crashed through the railings of the Duzi River bridge. Thankfully he landed on the bank and not in the river. I duly phoned Father, begging him to be gentle with the poor boy who was feeling as bad as he possibly could feel. Needless to say, the accident was not that ‘small’. The car has been written off, Dude has learnt one of his hardest lessons and Father’s brand new car will be delivered today. It’s been an expensive month!

But onto something that interested me up on the Reef. I was driving on the R21 from Pretoria to Joburg when I noticed a billboard advertising a website called ‘unashamedly ethical’. I was interested enough to have a look at it when I got home, but more than that it got me thinking about the whole question of ethics as it applies to what we do. The thing is that there is a national pre-occupation with corruption, theft of public funds, jobs for relatives – no whole mining companies for relatives – and Shabir Sheik playing golf while he should be rotting in jail. Are we entitled to complain and make snide remarks about all of this? I think not and I’m going to tell you why.

I once noticed half a ton of cigarette butts in the stones outside Dude’s window. They were the result of the happy get-togethers that happen in his bedroom. I’ve described them before. Everyone slouching over Applemacs, chatting, updating Facebook, drinking and smoking. They don’t use the ashtrays which we can provide. Oh no. The butt just gets hurled out of the window. At the time of my discovery, I didn’t say a word. Just bided my time and it was only a few days later that Dude went off pop over the filth and litter that we have in our city, with its bankrupt municipality. And that was my chance. I told him that he was a hypocrite. You can’t complain about people who don’t use rubbish bins if you and your Chinas can’t even be bothered to look for an ashtray

People who count needlecrafts as their hobby are not unsophisticated people. Most of them are white women, educated, living in leafy suburbs, with two cars in the garage and a swimming pool in the garden. In the kitchen is a maid and in the garden is a gardener. Many of them are to be found taking up space in church pews on a Sunday. But as comfortably middle-class and self-righteous as they are, they are no better than petty criminals when it comes to copyright infringement and getting a bargain. They just don’t get it. They really don’t. And I’m at a loss to explain why.

Let’s start with copyright infringement. For many years there were sanctions in place against South Africa and many people speculate that this is where the problem started. You know, they won’t sell it to us, so we’ll just copy it. I think that’s a weak excuse. There haven’t been sanctions for nearly twenty years now. But the copyright culprits are still at it, fingers elegantly poised over photocopier buttons, churning out page after plagiarized page. But, let’s be kind and say that is the reason why, if you try to explain the concept of copyright to some people, what you get in return is a blank stare. You know, the door of the mind is open but whatever goes in hangs around in the entrance hall looking confused. They cannot process the fact that if someone has designed, written, composed or otherwise created something, that person owns it and all the rights to it. It is the creator’s intellectual property. An abstract concept, I agree, but surely not a difficult one to understand? If that confused person visits her doctor, who uses his intellectual capabilities to diagnose her symptoms, she expects to pay for that? Paying royalties to an artist is no different. So that’s the first category in the copyright mafia. The ‘Dumb and Dumber’.

The next category is the Multiplugs. (So-called, because they are like electricity thieves in the townships. You’ve seen it on the news. A roadside transformer with an illegal cable and a multiplug, put there by a helpful member of the community to assist all stakeholders. It provides free electricity to all the houses in the street.) Multiplugs move in groups, know where all the best shops are, visit the craft shows and, of late, have learnt how to surf the internet. They buy one book then make photocopies for the other members in the group. The person who takes on the copying job also makes copies for her sister, her auntie, her next door neighbor and her daughter’s gay friend who is into needlework. Many of the Guilds are the worst culprits here. They know that what they’re doing is illegal but they don’t care because in a country where prosecutors’ time is taken up with headless bodies and the rape of 4-year olds, they know that even if a docket were to land on a desk in the Department of Justice, it would be marked ‘decline to prosecute’ because this country has bigger fish to fry.

The Multiplugs category has a sub-category called the Heavy-Duty Multiplugs. These are the ladies that have gone abroad and done a workshop. They buy all the books and goodies, come home and quickly set themselves up as teachers of whatever it is that they have learnt. Very often they will claim that only they have the rights to teach the techniques. Now, on one level that’s probably okay. One hopes, though, that they’ve had the manners to ask the person who taught them for permission to pass on the techniques. It is on the other level that it all goes terribly wrong. Those books they bring back get copied, page for page, chapter for chapter, and get sold to their students. This is wholesale theft of intellectual property. They think that because they sit on the bottom tip of Africa they won’t be found out. Well, the world is not as big as it used to be and they will eventually be caught. It’s not a good idea to be a Heavy-Duty Multiplug. It could cost you your life savings if say, an American author gets wind of what you’re doing and decides to sue. Remember Americans can pay local lawyers in US dollars. With our exchange rate? Do the sums.

The next bunch is the 13% gang. They’ve heard of copyright, but they think that they have worked out ways to get around it. They say that you can pass someone’s design off as your own, provided you have made 1/13/25 changes or that 10/20/25% has been altered. The numbers vary depending on who you’re speaking to. I don’t bother getting into a debate with them. The fact that I’ve been married to a lawyer for nearly 30 years and, with his assistance, have gone into copyright law in great detail, would mean nothing to them. They always know better. They’ve got some cousin’s brother-in-law’s sister’s boyfriend whose father’s cousin’s stepson is a magistrate and that person told them that 13 changes would mean they weren’t copying! Well, they are wrong and if they were ever to land up in front of a Judge – the real thing with red robes – they would get a very nasty shock.

I have a favourite stupid remark that always forms part of any discussion on copyright. It has been known to cause much mirth in our home and it goes like this. “But copyright is so complicated; it’s so hard to understand.” Oh please. Complicated? Don’t copy. Don’t copy. Don’t copy. Keep your fingers away from the photocopier button. That’s not complicated, is it?

Let’s move on to the bargain hunters. I’m going to call them the ‘Rights Without Duties Brigade”. There are some businesses who sell DMC threads at very, very low prices. Prices so low that, at first, you doubt whether they can be genuine DMC threads? Well, I’ve looked at them and decided that they probably are. So how are they able to sell them at those prices? I buy them through the proper channels and I can’t do that. You can’t sell things for less than you’ve paid for them. So, let me enlighten you. They have relatives who travel. Some of those relatives are pilots or air hostesses. Others are regular travelers who form part of their extended families. These relatives come back into this country with suitcases full of threads and by luck – but more likely, design – they stroll through customs without declaring a thing and without paying a cent in import duty. Everyone loves a bargain and so do I. I won’t deny it. It stands to reason. If you can somehow manage to spend less on something, then you can treat yourself to something else. It’s simple economics. But buying things that have been smuggled into the country without import duty? That’s a bit like buying the alleged Cheryl Cwele’s alleged drugs brought in by alleged mules allegedly from South America.

It’s all so deliciously irritating and so very amusing to notice the hypocrisy. Of course everyone must do what they want to do, I wouldn’t dream of suggesting otherwise. But if you recognize yourself here, please remember that you may not complain about Duduzane Zuma’s shares in Arcelor Mittal, Shabir Sheik’s golfing habits, the thugs that had Jackie Selebi in their pockets and, indeed, you cannot be outraged when your house is broken into. There is no purpose to be served by putting criminal acts into categories. Crime is crime. Corruption is corruption. It’s that simple.

As an up to date addendum to this article and on the subject of bargain hunters, the “rights without duties brigade”, our South African DMC importer and distributor went into liquidation about a month ago. Whilst not completely as a result of the abovementioned customs duty dodgers, the Euro/ZA Rand exchange rate having played a part too, I happen to know that stranded cotton was the mainstay of their business and that having reduced so because of these criminals, they eventually had to close. What that means of course is that unless another ethical agent comes to the fore, we are going to be forced to order from guess where, unless we bring it in ourselves (which I am investigating). What the people who bought from the dodgy dealers didn’t consider while they were busy saving their pennies and were so pleased with themselves was that these dealers only brought in stranded cotton. Not perle threads, not metallic threads, not dentelles threads…….. I could go on and on but suffice to say, we are all going to suffer.