Creators' organisations unite - now for some more hard work

Creators have rights

AN UNPRECEDENTED range of creators' organisations have united to organise the Creators' Rights Alliance (CRA). Focusing initially on the BBC, it will campaign to protect and strengthen our rights in our work - not just because exploitation of relatively isolated freelances is wrong, but because these rights are central to the integrity of both news and cultural output.

FREELANCE Industrial Council chair Tim Dawson got the afternoon's first big hand at the CRA conference at the National Film Theatre on 14 March when he called on the Government - represented on the platform by Whip Jim Dowd MP - to put pressure on the BBC to end its policy of forcing freelance creators of all kinds to sign away their rights in their work.

Dawson, a feature writer member of Edinburgh Freelance branch, said that as a public service broadcaster financed by the licence, the BBC should be leading the way in treating creative workers fairly. In particular, it should cease demanding moral rights waivers which meant that work could be altered willy-nilly without any redress. That approach seriously undermined the journalistic reliability and integrity of BBC news and cultural output.

In response, Dowd, who stuck to the Government line that contractual inequities on copyright could be resolved by individual creators taking complaints to the Office Of Fair Trading on an "abuse of a monopoly position" basis, agreed that the BBC "should not abuse the position that they have" and should "set the best standards". (Dowd was standing in for Minister of Tourism, Film and Broadcasting Janet Anderson who was otherwise engaged with the foot and mouth crisis.)

The conference, titled "The Value Of Creative Rights In The 21st century", was attended by about 300 members of a dozen creators' unions and professional associations. These included Equity, BECTU, Society Of Authors, Writers Guild and the Musicians Union - and the NUJ, which was by far the main financial sponsor of the event, to the tune of £5000 in all, including £1000 from London Freelance Branch.

Featured speakers included novelist AS Byatt ("The BBC takes an extraordinary high-handed tone with you"), NUJ columnist and critic Joyce McMillan ("I want to emphasise that most journalistic creators in the UK have no authors' rights because they are staff, not self-employed - and in the long run we need to look at changing that"), and TV director John Crome ("Acquiring moral rights is about gaining the right to damage an author's work - why would anyone want to do that?").

Wider copyright issues were raised, including a report from NUJ photographer Tony Haresign on his colleagues' campaign to resist rights-grabbing contracts from The Scotsman and associated Edinburgh newspapers (see below). His tale of how they reached the point of refusing to do further work for the papers until the contracts were improved drew a roar of support.

However, the focus on the BBC continued with Directors Guild spokesperson Simon Campbell-Jones quoting its standard programme commission contract:

You grant the BBC unlimited right to edit, copy, alter, add to, take from, or translate any product of your services hereunder, and any programme(s) (including films) in which such product may be incorporated and with regard to such product and in programme(s) (including films) in which it may be incorporated you hereby waive any moral rights' (including without limitation any rights you may have under Section 77 to 85 inclusive of the Copyright Designs And Patents Act 1988 and any similar laws of any jurisdiction).

CRA chair David Ferguson, from the British Academy Of Composers And Songwriters, summed up by listing the day's main themes as:

  • The priority of tackling the BBC.
  • Working on the relationship of British creators' organisations with the European Union.
  • Campaigning to change the British Government's attitude that "market forces are the way to deal with the creative industries".
  • Campaigning for changes in the law to protect individual copyright holders.
  • The need for the CRA's member organisations to put resources into the Alliance so that it can fulfil its potential as a campaigning body for all kinds of creative workers.

The event featured the première of the CRA's half-hour campaigning/educational film Creators Have Rights, including interviews with NUJ members Steve Bell, Alex Pascall and Dr. Steve Wilkinson.

Last modified: 21 March 2001 - © 2001 contributors
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