Authors' Rights for all
This piece, and the outline for a global
campaign, are extracted from the papers for the Authors'
Rights Summit. Credit is due to all members of the organising
committee, but especially to Anne Louise Schelin of the Danish
Union of Journalists.
INTELLECTUAL property is the acknowledged gold
dust of the new economy. Journalists work with information, the
most tradeable commodity in the world today - and the economic
currency of the future. Exploitation of intellectual property
rights is an urgent subject for virtually every government, major
company and every economic forum worldwide.
In the first half of the 1990s, when visions of the World Wide
Web and the Information Society became a hot topic the world
over, many people felt that copyright systems would not be able to
survive. Especially the Continental European system of Authors'
Rights which was thought of as old-fashioned and out-of-date.
In the European system of Authors' Rights, the
right to be named as the author (or performer, for that matter)
and the right of protection of the artistic or journalistic
integrity of a creator and his or her work have immense importance.
They help preserve our cultural heritage and they ensure public
access to authentic scientific, documentary and artistic works.
These so-called "moral rights" are also a
prerequisite for a decent press characterised by editorial independence,
high standards and quality. The sound development of democratic
society depends on the ability of the press to secure free access
to information and freedom of expression. It also depends on
the ability of the press to fulfil the role of public watchdog.
Under Authors' Rights laws, economic rights can be transferred
from the author by contract - but moral rights can no more be
waived than can human rights. This is also the case for authors
who create their works in the course of employment.
Under the copyright system in the US, the UK
and other countries with equivalent laws, however, employers are
the first owner of the entire copyright in the work of their
employees, who have no moral rights. In the USA, no writer or news
photographer has any moral rights. In the UK, there are no such
rights in any work "made for the purpose of reporting current
events," and even where they exist freelance authors can
be pressed to waive them.
The lack of moral rights protection of journalistic works (and
other works) in the countries that follow the legal tradition
of the Anglo-American system of copyright is in conflict with the
Berne Convention - the international law on Authors' Rights -
and with basic human rights. Article 27 (2) of the UN Human
Rights Declaration states:
- 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.
We can win
In the early 1990s, European publishers and
producers vigorously lobbied the European Commission, claiming that
Europe would be completely unable to compete with the rest of
the world, and in particular the USA, if Authors' Rights
legislation was not "harmonised down" toward the copyright
These views found many supporters. It took years of lobbying
by authors and performers, legal experts and others to shift this
perception. But the European Commission and the European
Parliament have acknowledged that moral rights are important for the
sake of authenticity, quality, high standards and to help
preserve the European cultural heritage.
EU directives, including the proposed "Directive on the
harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights
in the information society", represent a victory for the
Continental European system. However, EU Member States have been
left free to decide for themselves whether they wish to adopt
statutory transfer of rights or legal presumptions of transfer
where employed authors (or authors who otherwise work for hire) are
These directives have not solved the problems of the authors
and performers of the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands. They are
left with completely inadequate protection.
There are other challenges. The so-called "TRIPS
agreement" of the World Trade Organization can be perceived as a
victory for the copyright system (and thus for producers and
publishers) because it reinforces the notion that our words and
pictures are purely commodities. Authors and performers do not want
the harmonisation of Authors' Rights to take place within
trade-related fora. These questions should be dealt with by the
Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).
The media for which we work are increasingly globalised in
their reach and ownership. Authors' Rights, and our campaign to
defend and strengthen them, need to be global too.