Big it up for copyright! - NUJ Copyright Conference

STOP "TREATING copyright in isolation", Freelance Organiser John Toner told the NUJ's recent annual conference. "It's not a marginal minority issue. Copyright is about pay... Publishers should not have the power to bully journalists out of their copyright as they routinely do. It should be an unalienable right."

The NUJ celebrated World Copyright Day on 23 April with its first Copyright Conference, aimed at student journalists. General Secretary Jeremy Dear warned how "copyright infringement has increased dramatically since the advent of the internet" and looked forward to a day when the corporate "bullies no longer rule the playground".

Copyright lawyer Kate Fox, from Thompsons Solicitors, went through the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, and examined damages for copyright infringement - you can generally expect only a "reasonable rate" equivalent to what you'd normally charge. Many authors invoice infringers for double that and get away with it.

Mark Le Fanu, Society of Authors General Secretary, told how Dickens and Trollope had "assigned" their copyright (sold it), but they were both "canny businessmen" who made a fortune out of it. In books, there are "now only five or six major publishers who control the market".

David Ferguson, of the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters, looked at the perils of sampling other people's work: "Where there's a hit there's a writ". A student asked whether it was OK for her friend to sample a second of Coldplay in a one-off demo tape to send to a producer to "get them noticed". David replied, "if you must have that sample, contact them (the artist) early and ask them if you can have a licence." But "if you are a serious musician," you should be able to get yourself noticed with an original composition.

The Freelance's own Mike Holderness took us on a journey to a parallel universe that really exists outside the English-speaking world, where authors have inalienable Authors' Rights that cannot be assigned. It also means every news item has to have a credit. Could British tabloid cyncism be down to a lack of attachment to copy - which "you know will be mashed up?" asked Mike.

While British law is based on the fiction that "I sit down across a table with Rupert (Murdoch) and strike a bargain", a German law passed in 2002 recognises that this is not the case, and regulates the type of contracts that can be made.

Music journalist Angus Batey told how he resisted a late 1990s copyright grab at New Muscial Express (NME), and how the music press relies on proportionally a lot of copy from freelances, an on a large throughput of freelance contributors who are "hobbyists turned professional" with less awareness of copyright. On the other hand, they have a constant need to share tips - for example "who's doing PR for the Arctic Monkeys?" - so NBT, the mailing list for music journalists, is very lively and has been able to organise talks with publishers of music and mags.

Last modified: 23 May 2007 - © 2007 contributors
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