Should Writers get paid?

J K Rowling has taken a small publisher to court to try and prevent a 400 page “Harry Potter lexicon” being published. Suddenly she’s no longer the single mother who had produced a series of successful child/adult crossover novels and persuaded some reluctant readers to pick up a book, but some kind of devil for wanting to protect her copyright.

Let’s be clear, this lexicon is not an encylopedia consisting of facts in the public domain. It is not a book of literary criticism. It’s not even fanfic (and fanfic writers generally acknowledge that a) they don’t own the original and b) don’t attempt to make money from their fan fiction). The lexicon is a derivative book built entirely on J K Rowling’s original creativity. So why should she support its publication? Why is so difficult to persuade the detractors that writing is work that should be paid for?

Let’s try some facts. The Society Authors report that the typical British author earns 33% less than the national average wage. British writers aged 25 – 34 typically earn £5000 per year. The national average wage is over £20000 a year. The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society reports that British writers are also badly hit by unauthorised use of their work on the internet, fewer than 15% of authors have received any payment for online use of their work. There’s even a Facebook group in support of paying writers for their work.

Does it matter? You try doing your job for a couple of hours first thing in the morning, then getting children ready for school, doing your second job until lunch time when you squeeze a bit more of your real job in, then going back to your second job, until you pick the children up, cook dinner, do household chores and then maybe find a hour or so at the end of the day when you’re really too tired to concentrate.

It matters. Whenever I’m asked for an original unpublished poem for a new magazine, I always ask what I’m going to get paid. If I were paid for every time the wannabee editor exclaimed in complete astonishment that a poet should be paid for a poem, I’d have already earnt twenty times what I’ve managed to earn from writing.

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3 Responses to “Should Writers get paid?”

  1. Tony Sidaway Says:

    Well said. Fans are apt to think that the author owes them the right to extensive indulgence, to the point of turning a blind eye to blatant appropriation of their work. I don’t see how the judge in this case could have withheld the finding, and the only surprise is that it took him several monthsto write the judgement (I trust that there were complex issues because of the many licensing agreements involved in Rowling’s work).


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