Creators’ Rights for all

OF COURSE journalists want Creators' Rights. And of course artists and poets and composers and scientists and novelists and screenwriters and directors - and performers - are in favour of Creators' Rights. Our living depends on having the right to say when and where our works are used, so we can negotiate fair payment for each use. So of course there's self-interest. But Authors' Rights (as international law calls them) work for everyone. Almost everyone, anway.

WHAT IF Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates owned the first draft of history outright - with the right to change it? Journalism, whatever its faults, really is history in first draft. Two key Authors' Rights in international law are the right to a credit, and the right to defend the integrity of your work - the crucial "Moral Rights". But media moguls are actively undermining these rights. Wherever they can - especially in the US and UK - they demand that reporters and photographers give up these rights. That gives the corporations the right to alter the work.

SAYS WHO? Put news or recorded culture into a computer, and it can be almost instantly changed and manipulated.

Corporations want to re-work and re-package stuff for profit, paying once and selling it over and over. But there's a deeper question. Who do you trust to guarantee that what you see is the real thing - corporations, or individual creators and researchers? Full Authors' Rights let creators defend their work against manipulation.

AUTHORS' RIGHTS are human rights. "Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author". That's what the UN Human Rights Declaration says. But the UK's law opens with the words "Copyright shall be a property right". And this is the heart of the conflict. Should news, art and recorded culture be treated as commodities, like salt or sneakers?

BUT ISN'T COPYRIGHT about corporations over- charging me? In the English-speaking world, creators constantly battle to stop corporations grabbing our copyright, and to get a fair share of what you pay. Most of the world has Authors' Rights, which are different. They must stay with the individual, by law.

IMAGINE NO RIP-OFFS. Imagine that John Lennon and his heirs had the absolute right to say no! to the song Imagine being used to advertise whatever. Imagine it simply wasn't possible for a musician to sign over total artistic control to a bunch of bean-counters. It's easy if you try.

IMAGINE RESPONSIBLE JOURNALISM... Strong Authors' Rights mean that individual journalists take responsibility for what they report, and how. Weak Authors' Rights let them abdicate responsibility to the boss. Is it a coincidence that journos in the UK - where you have no rights in works made "in the course of employment" - are... a little more cynical than elsewhere?

INFORMATION ‘WANTS TO BE FREE’ It wants to be free as in free speech, not as in "free beer". If corporations own works outright, they lock them up in proprietary databases. If creators have rights, and a fair share in the income from re-selling works online, it's in our interest to make them as accessible as possible. You search the public Web. You find news, or music, or whatever. You pay 10¢ to keep a full copy. The creator gets 7¢. Easy. No bureaucracy is involved: the computers look after it, once you agree.

SO IT'S ABOUT MONEY after all? Well... if you want independent reporting and music and so on, creators and researchers have to eat. And we can't do quality work as a hobby.

WHAT NOW? The links below will give you more information on campaigns to change the law so the English-speaking world can catch up with proper Authors' Rights, for employees too. Right now, freelances do have some rights. Don't sign them away. Don't make them do it.

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Last modified: 25 October 2001 - © 2001 contributors
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