Stirrings on Authors' Rights

THERE WERE interesting developments for creators at the World Intellectual Property Organization's Standing Committee on Copyright and Related rights (WIPO SCCR), which met in Geneva from 7 December to 11 December.

Geneva - photo © Tim Dawson

Geneva, home of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

In the long run, the most significant for journalists is a call from Brazil for future discussions on a wide-ranging review of how authors' rights work online. This appeared to call for authors and - more particularly - musical performers to give up our right to authorise who uses our work, in return for "equitable remuneration" administered through collecting societies.

The International Federation of Journalists raised this with the Brazilian delegation, who replied that they understood the importance of this "exclusive right" to journalists in maintaining our reputations and ethical practice, and they would not in fact seek to undermine it. Yes, they suggested, the initiative could and should lead to discussion on how authors and performers are forced to sign exploitative contracts.

For creators more widely, Senegal and other countries got ahead in a queue by proposing that the organisation open talks on a treaty to make the Artists Resale Right ("droit de suite") apply worldwide - which it must if it is to be effective.

Following its implementation in the European Union, some art auction houses moved parts of their activity to the US, to avoid paying artists 4 per cent of the value of sales up to €50,000 - and started lobbying there to prevent its extension. The US blocked the proposal in Geneva, instead calling for a study of how the right is applied and what effect it has in the countries that offer it.

But the resale right proposal is now formally in the queue for debate. Ahead of it are a treaty giving broadcasters rights in an attempt to prevent "signal piracy", and calls for international rules on "exceptions" to authors' rights for the benefit of libraries, museums, archives, schools, colleges and, er, Google, which has formed a cunning alliance with libraries in particular.

Just after the January Freelance went to press the European Commission produced its "Communication" setting out plans for authors' rights. It observes that there is "growing concern about whether the current EU copyright rules make sure that the value generated by some of the new forms of online content distribution is fairly shared". Subsequent creators' meetings with EU Commissioner Andrus Ansip suggest that the Commission may in fact have appetite to do something about the unfair contracts imposed on us. See for details and links.

And in the UK organisations in and around the Creators' Rights Alliance (CRA), including the NUJ, are launching a campaign on those unfair contracts at around the acronym C.R.E.A.T.O.R:

  • Clearer contracts, including written contracts which set out the exact scope of the rights granted;
  • Fair Remuneration. Equitable and unwaivable remuneration for all forms of exploitation, to include bestseller clauses so if a work does far better than expected the creator shares in its success even if copyright was assigned;
  • An obligation of Exploitation for each mode of exploitation. Also known as the "use it or lose it" Clause. This is the French model;
  • Fair, understandable and proper Accounting clauses;
  • Term. Reasonable and limited contract terms and regular reviews to take into account new forms of exploitation;
  • Ownership. Authors, including illustrators and translators, should be appropriately credited for all uses of their work and moral rights should be unwaivable;
  • All other clauses be subject to a general test of Reasonableness.

CRA member organisation the Society of Authors is running its own successful campaign, including author Philip Pullman getting coverage in many newspapers for announcing that he has "had enough" of writers being expected to work for nothing and withdrawing as a patron of the Literary Festival in his beloved Oxford after it refused his call to pay authors who appear there.

Last modified: 15 Feb 2016 - © 2016 contributors
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