Doug TenNapel is a graphic novelist and illustrator, whose stories have been sold to Fox, Universal and Paramount. His animated series, “Catscratch”, airs on Nicktoons by Nickelodeon. He is the creator of Earthworm Jim, a character that has been adapted to video games, cartoons and toys. He has a pretty cool career. One to be admired and possibly pursued by lots of kids who cover their notebooks with fanciful drawings during class.
At a discussion hosted Tuesday by the Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI) in celebration of World Intellectual Property Day, Mr. TenNapel pointed out that the crushing effect of digital theft will make it impossible for today’s aspiring artists to be the successful illustrators of tomorrow. Society’s failure to educate kids about the immorality of digital theft, Mr. TenNapel argues, is creating whole generations of kids who want to be video game designers or rocks stars, and they won’t be able to do it.
Mr. TenNapel can be counted among the creators who have seen their work sold on unlicensed web sites, enriching the rogue site operators at the expense of creators and legitimate distributors.
I joined Mr. TenNapel for the discussion, along with moderator Andrew Keen, who raised the question, “is there a crisis in the creative community?”
Certainly at the Copyright Alliance we hear with great frequency the stories of creators who have encountered the same frustrations with these sites as Mr. TenNapel. Tackling this problem is challenging for multiple reasons. In part, at least some portion of illegal downloaders is very much aware that what they’re doing is illegal. It is a sanitized experience online. They don’t view it the same as if they went into a store and stuffed a DVD into their pocket.
However some consumers who think they are purchasing legal products can be duped by sites that are dressed up as legal, branded with logos, recognized payment processors, and other trappings of legitimate commerce. And it is these sites that are the focus of legislation that, as Andrew Keen suggested, may be one source for optimism.
Other efforts, like more aggressive education, are also important. The Copyright Alliance Education Foundation is working to have an impact in that arena. As are other arts organizations like the Canadian Film Centre, which Tuesday announced winners of a contest for filmmakers to create shorts on the importance of copyright. Even events like IPI’s today have the potential to touch new audiences and spark new ideas.
Such efforts are not easy, and any of them individually is not a silver bullet solution. Copyright opponents throw up hurdles and outlandish arguments to legislation. Laws can quickly become outdated as technology speeds ahead. And the education process can seem slow and laborious. But taken together, all these efforts are important and over time will yield progress. The most important thing is to keep working. A void of voices, time, energy and resources invested in this cause is where a crisis lies.