Copyright at stake

THE NUJ BELIEVES that not only is independent, impartial journalism necessary to the functioning of any democracy - how else will rational voters make their choices but on its basis? - but also that it is essential to the health of journalism that there is a vibrant sector of independent professional journalists: freelances.

And for that to be possible, it must be possible to make a living as a dedicated full-time professional - not, as a commissioning editor on a national newspaper recently said explicitly to an NUJ member, to see "proper journalism" as a side-line promoting paying work in the corporate sector - "so no, I wont pay you more than £135 for 500 words". That's three days' work at minimum wage - hardly enough for an in-depth investigation - and few local newspapers pay as much as £50 for a story of the same size.

The above is quoted from the NUJ's submission to the current UK government review of aspects of copyright law. The key proposal is to legitimise "private copying". EU law says authors - including photographers and other journalists - must receive fair compensation for loss of sales. The UK government proposes that the fair compensation is... zero.

The consultation demanded that the union put its argument in the form "the effect on the turnover of UK plc would be..." Even if it were possible to gather statistics from 8000 freelances with better things to do, the issues at stake as they affect the NUJ's members are of principle: even the low rewards are a matter of public policy concern since they make it difficult to sustain high-quality independent journalism.

The NUJ expressed its deep disappointment that neither the Gowers Review (from which the current review emanates), nor the consultation document, pays attention to the public interest, that of democracy, or that of the culture. The latter makes no mention of the moral rights to be identified as author and to defend the integrity of a work, in what purports to be an introduction to copyright.

Hostility to copyright is widespread, and based on a perception that it is entirely a matter of protecting the interests of extremely powerful corporations: and to members of the public who express this view, NUJ members respond "yes, we know, these are the corporations that are extorting copyright from us."

The NUJ proposes that all authors should share in payments for private copying along the lines of Public Lending Right payments to book authors for library lending.

Another proposal is that educational institutions should benefit from an "exception" to copyright permitting them to distribute works online to remote students online through "virtual learning environment" programmes, for free, until a licensing scheme is worked out. The NUJ says: just work out the licensing scheme; any sane programmer will include the machinery for recording what is sent to whom already.

Yet another is for an exception allowing use of authors' works for parody. The final question in the consultation is: "Is there any reason why [the law] should be amended to exempt parodies from the right of false attribution?" This question is itself parody, yes?

These topics - and defending PLR - will be dealt with at the London Freelance Branch meeting at the House of Commons on 12 May - see the Branch meeting calendar.

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