Copyright: why isn't it as good as French and German law?

We go to Europe for proper rights

THE CAMPAIGN to stop freelance journalists being bullied into giving away their copyright was taken to Europe in July when the NUJ sent two representatives to Vienna to lobby the European Commission.

Branch members Mike Holderness and Carol Lee -- sent by the Union and by LFB itself -- told almost 300 delegates at an international conference on Intellectual Property rights about the shabby treatment of freelance journalists' and photographers' rights in the UK.

As a result, the Commission has asked for the NUJ to submit information on cases where "moral rights" have been usurped. These are the right to a byline and the right to defend the integrity of your work -- to prevent publication of altered versions which are, in the jargon, "detrimental" to your reputation. The irony is that under present UK law there are no such rights in news and current affairs. In most of Europe, writers and photographers -- including staff journalists -- have these rights and cannot waive them.

Their importance was highlighted by author and copyright expert Maureen Duffy. She told delegates how the BBC insists on freelance contributors waiving their moral rights and said: "Yet we need to guarantee that material has not been manipulated -- and that it is attributed to a certain person who has asserted his or her right to be named as the author. We need to know who has written something in order to judge it."

The Commission organised the conference to hear submissions on ways to achieve "harmonisation" of copyright laws in the EC -- so that people are not favoured or disfavoured in a single market. Multi-national media corporations, telecommunications companies and all with an interest in exploiting others' copyright have lobbied the Commission to bend the laws in their direction.

Attended by both big business and creators' representatives, the Vienna event was a chance to argue for a fair deal all round.

Speaking for the European Publishers Council, Angela Mills told the conference there was nothing wrong with relationships between newspapers and journalists in the UK, so there was no need for a change in UK copyright practices. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," she said from the platform.

In response Lee said things were broken -- and badly needed fixing. She told delegates about the NUJ's long campaign to get fair treatment over copyright, saying: "It has become a dominant practice for media corporations in the UK to demand copyright -- often under threat of people's work not being used unless they assign it."

"When companies gain blanket copyright on articles they are then free to syndicate them -- at large profits -- and with no moral recourse to the authors. The journalists who have written these pieces have no control over where their work is sent or what purposes it is used for."

Giving instances of the problems photographers face, Holderness said that since modern technology made it so easy to alter images, it was crucial that the person who had taken the picture had the right for that original not to be manipulated.

As a result of comments like these -- and others from European organisations representing creators -- the Commission has asked for examples of:

a moral rights being a bone of contention in discussion over contracts;

b cases where the difference between UK and mainland laws has hindered the "export" of articles or photographs within the EC; and

c creators being asked to do work in the UK at the expense of people working in regions with better authors' rights protection.

If you have such stories, please contact me on 0171-359 0651.

Sep/Oct 1998
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