Copyright is a complicated thing. Members of the HEMA community participate in an activity that is inextricably linked with material that may well be copyrighted in some fashion, and therefore it is helpful to understand what copyright is and how it works, so that we can talk about it intelligently and avoid falling into any awkward legal situations.
Why does copyright exist?
As discussed in part 1 of this series, copyright exists to give protection to people who create new works of writing, art, music, or suchlike. When you create something, you have the copyright over it, which means you are the only person with the right to copy it and distribute it, unless you give permission for someone else to do so.
This legislation exists so that people who create things can have the legal protection necessary to benefit from the income from their own creations, and to prevent other people using someone else’s creative work for their own income and benefit (effectively stealing the revenue the original creator should have received).
Faceless corporations or community members with names and faces?
We often hear stories of large corporations sending Cease and Desist Letters, or threatening small businesses or individuals with lawsuits for what might seem like silly little things. This often does seem quite unreasonable, and it perhaps primes us to think of copyright as something that large, faceless corporations use to safeguard their profits and either to punish individuals or to push smaller businesses out of business.
However, sometimes the people who benefit from copyright are individuals, and perhaps they are even people whom we know personally. Often, these individuals are quite lovely people, and they work to help the HEMA community in a variety of different ways. Most published HEMA people are also instructors who attend and teach at events, who help run clubs, who help regional or national (or even international) organisations to function, and who are more than happy to answer questions or provide advice if asked.
Perhaps people will cite me as “Farrell (2020)” when referring to this article. But perhaps people will cite me as “Keith”, and remember the enjoyable times we have spent together at events or at the pub.
People like Christian Tobler, Jeffrey Forgeng, or Daniel Jaquet are often cited in quite dry, academic fashions – but they are all nice people, and I have enjoyed the time I have spent with each of them. I know what they have done to help the community, I know of at least some of the efforts and projects they have worked on for the good of the community, and I know of at least some of the challenges and difficulties they have faced while trying to extend the breadth of published knowledge about HEMA.
HEMA people who write and publish books or videos, or who take photographs or create other artworks, are definitely real people, real individuals, and they have faces and names. They typically don’t become rich from their copyrights. They are certainly different from faceless, international corporations who are bent on increasing profits for their shareholders.
Is copying a work really stealing?
While it might be tempting to say “no”, because nothing physical is being taken from the author, I am inclined to say that copying works without permission (and therefore breaching copyright) is indeed a form of stealing and it can hurt the whole community, not just the author.
If you copy a book and distribute it to your club members, then maybe the author doesn’t receive the royalties or income on four or five more sales. That is a shame. While it may be correct to say that in some cases authors do not receive royalties from their sales (such as with many academic publishers), other more ethical publishing houses do pay royalties to their authors, and this little financial difference can make the difference between it being worth the time and effort to write and produce these works and such efforts no longer being worthwhile. My own royalties from book sales over the last few years, while certainly not massive sums of money, have nonetheless made a huge difference to my financial state at the end of some months.
If an author finds that his or her works have been copied and distributed without permission, perhaps they will be tempted to stop making their work available in an electronic fashion, or might pursue forms of DRM, or may feel inclined to stop producing any new research because what’s the point if people just pirate it? This is clearly no good for the whole community, because of the selfish actions of the people who make and distribute copies without permission.
If a publisher finds that their publications are being copied and distributed, they may make the business decision to stop serving this community, full stop.
It may seem to be a relatively harmless act to copy a book and distribute those scans or photos to your friends and clubmates, but it does have a negative effect on the author and publisher, and potentially even on the whole community as skilled and knowledgeable people become less interested in putting their work in front of a public who just copy and distribute it without permission.
Copyright can definitely be abused by large companies. However, it can also serve to protect the work of individuals, of people whom we may know personally and who may be doing a lot of other selfless work for the HEMA community in general. Observing and respecting copyright can help to encourage such people to continue their research and to make more material available. Breaking copyright by copying and distributing works without permission is indeed a form of stealing and it can have a variety of negative consequences both for the author and for the community as a whole.
My plea to the community after reading this article is to consider authors and creators of any media or artwork as people, as individuals, and not to assume that they are just faceless “content creators” like multinational film companies or record labels.
Thanks and disclaimer
I would like to thank Brian Puckett for his input on this from the United States perspective, and for general proofreading and suggested edits. The article is much stronger for his input!
I am not a lawyer specialising in copyright legislation (and neither is Brian), and this article should not be considered formal legal advice. Instead, this article covers certain general legal information that is not necessarily applicable to any specific legal matter. It is intended to be an introduction to the ideas of copyright and how they may apply to the community – no more than that.
If you would like to support my writing efforts, please consider donating a little something towards my coffee fund!
Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers. I teach regularly at Liverpool HEMA, and help behind the scenes with running HEMA in Glasgow at the Vanguard Centre.