The Creators' Rights Alliance conference

Grab your rights, before someone else does

The Creators' Rights Alliance held its second conference at the National Film Theatre on 21 March. Here Jenny Vaughan gives an account as an experienced copyright campaigner, and below Sofia-Chezene Theophilou a fresher-to-the-campaign view.

I MUST confess that I wondered what the second CRA conference was for. As it turned out, the answer was inspiration.

Firstly, there was a rousing speech from Jonathan Tasini (US National Writers' Union), whose main message was that solidarity is all. A more contentious point he made was that the extension of copyright to 70 years after the author's death was really not important - we need to eat now, not when we are dead. This occasioned some irritation from the floor among those who believed that any move in the US to break ranks with Europe was a Bad Thing, but that debate was really only a side-show.

Jonathan's more important point - that copyright is related to freedom of speech, and therefore democracy - was beyond question. Mario Lauer, head of film music at the German broadcaster ZDF, made a point unusual from one who commissions - that treating authors properly results in better quality. Debora Abramowicz, Director of the French authors' Société des Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiques, dazzled us with a series of extremely clear charts. These showed, for anyone who hadn't already guessed it, that British authors' rights were among the worst around (with the inevitable exception of the United States).

The conference was treated to the completed video Creators have rights which we saw as work in progress last year, and which has evolved into something clear, informative and useful (though to whom remains somewhat opaque).

Dr Kim Howells, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, addressed us after lunch. He managed to irritate us all by suggesting that it was our job as trade unionists (and others) to fight our own corner when it came to copyright, but at least can hardly have been in any doubt about our strength of feeling on the matter.

Maureen Duffy, former chair of the British Copyright Council and all round Queen of Copyright, made a rousing speech suggesting we take to the streets with our pens (and perhaps string quartets rather than techno?): "We will have to take to direct action if nobody will talk to us creatively. We cannot go on together just producing wonderful booklets and holding conferences."

Whitbread prizewinner Philip Pulman ended the conference by insisting on the need for artists to have the wherewithal to be creative - "to give delight and hurt not" - emphasising the rôle of copyright in this. He added that when you are famous, you get more money from talking about your work than doing it: it seems "people like our work so much they want to stop us doing it."

MY INTEREST in copyright goes back to when I was 12 years old and sending my poems to publishers. No publishers wrote back stating any interest - but I saw one of my poems on a card. When I contacted the publisher their reply was I was too young to be paid anything. I now know different but had no one to advise me back then.

The Creators Rights Alliance has done a brilliant job in getting together organisations which have copyright as a common interest. It was good to hear Mario Lauer of ZDF, apparently a business that genuinely appreciates the rights of its authors. Are 75 per cent of its artists really happy with their terms? It was encouraging, though, that he acknowledges there is a problem. He mentioned the difficulty of obtaining royalties internationally when, for example, song titles change to a different language.

I should not have been surprised at Debora Abramowicz's report that authors in the USA have no moral rights, but I was even more surprised that the producers have all the rights. I'd be right behind a US campaign for moral rights.

The conference became interestingly lively with the arrival of Dr Kim Howell MP, Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting and his being upset by our insistence on help. Either through changes in the law or by acknowledging and making us the creator equal, the continued quality of our work depends on time for research, and future improvements in creating and displaying our works. If the industry does not make us equal or more equal the quality of our work will be limited.

Time and time again the entertainment industry claims that artists should be grateful to be paid. I've always replied that without artists they would not exist. Artists will always find a way to circulate their works and get paid for it.

Kim Howell stated he would welcome a meeting with creators. I look forward to an actual invitation to the CRA, so that it can present its recommendations. If we all could raise the funds for a full circulation of the CRA video to all schools and industry, to educate everyone about the rights of the creator, they would be more respect and less piracy.

Could we raise the funds for a full circulation of the CRA video to schools and industry, to educate everyone about the rights of the creator? And what about a list of the companies that do respect creators rights  so we can point out to others that these still flourish financially, and why cant they? We need, too, ways to encourage solidarity - so that if one refuses an unfair contract, all should.

Last modified: 12 April 2002 - © 2002 contributors
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