Rights roundup time

WHO OWNS what? The Authors' Rights Summit in London in the summer identified the need for a review, or audit, of rights ownership. Now the plan has gained practical support at another international conference.

The writers, photographers, illustrators and film-makers gathered in London asked for a review to take place so that politicians, the public, and creators themselves could have reliable information on rights. Groups representing "users" often lobby for dilution of authors' rights, perhaps confusing our interest as authors with those of publishers and producers. A survey could help to clear this up.

The annual meeting of IFRRO, the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations, in Stockholm on 24-25 October backed this plan. The RROs are the bodies, like DACS and the ALCS in the UK, which collect money on behalf of authors for "secondary uses" of our work, like photocopying.

The review, which would be conducted by a full-time researcher, would look at ownership patterns, comparing how much control individuals have compared to corporations. The RROs have access to much relevant information about rights ownership because of the ways they collect monies for rightsholders.

NUJ copyright Consultant, Carol Lee, who attended the conference, told the meeting: "The problem is that the term 'rightsholder' can be misleading in an arena, like this one, where it would seem to imply there is fair play. Having 50 per cent publishers and 50 per cent authors on their boards would suggest that RROs are distributing rights with equal regard to publishers and authors.

"What they're actually doing is distributing rights legally - as they must - and legally, much of copyrighted work has been acquired by publishers, often by coercion," she said. Lee went on to tell the meeting about the extent of coercion by some newspaper publishers in the UK , which deprived journalists of ownership of their work and therefore of any monies collected from it.

Giving a recent example of a female freelance writer who had been "sacked" by the Liverpool Post and Echo, part of the Trinity Mirror Group, for refusing to hand over her copyright, she continued: "This is why British and Northern Irish journalists are not as pleased as you would like them to be that the RROs collect money for rightsholders - because in many cases, journalists' rights have been taken from them - as have their right to work."

Lee's suggestion that the RROs assist with an international Review of Rights was endorsed by the meeting's chair who asked the individual RROs to co-operate with such research.

Last modified: 4 December 2000 - © 2000 contributors
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