Online only

NUJ response to government response to Hargreaves report on the future of copyright

03 Aug 2011

Government must deal with fundamental copyright questions

The National Union of Journalists notes the government's response to the Hargreaves review of intellectual property law this morning, and regrets that the government has failed to take this opportunity to deal with the fundamental issues that Professor Hargreaves considered outside his narrowly economistic brief.

It appears necessary to remind the government that there will be no "creative economy" - not for long - unless it is possible for journalists (and other creators) to make a living as independent professionals dedicated to making high-quality new work.

To give one example: the NUJ welcomes the spirit of the government now proposing that, when use of work by uncontactable authors is licensed, the fee should reflect the commercial value of such uses. This is some recognition of the distorting effect that Hargreaves' proposals would, if carelessly implemented, have on the market in which individual journalists, including reporters and photographers, make their living.

To be specific, if there were to be such licensing of so-called "orphan works" it must be done by bodies accountable to journalists and other creators; and the licences must be reviewed if the creator shows up.

But, more importantly still, the proposal runs into a weakness at the heart of UK copyright law. Creators do not have an enforceable right to be identified - that is, given a credit or byline - nor to defend the integrity of our work. Journalists and photojournalists do not have any right at all.

It is obviously nonsensical to legislate to permit use of works whose creators cannot be identified, without at the same time giving all creators an unwaivable right to be identified. To ignore this issue would be to guarantee that there was a growing number of "orphan works" and create a system that promotes abuse. The NUJ warns the government that unless this issue is tackled the proposals will be entirely unacceptable to many individual journalists, particularly photographers. No rational person wants a repeat of the car-crash that was the Digital Economy Bill.

These "moral rights" of identification and integrity are obviously crucial to creators in building and maintaining a career. But they are now important rights for every citizen.

The new online technology means that almost every child now in school will be a published or broadcast author or performer before they can vote. Some - no-one can know which - will go on to be the professional creators on whose work the "information economy" is founded - but only if they can negotiate on a level playing field to obtain fair remuneration for their work. This too must be addressed.

The recommendation in the Hargreaves Report for a "Digital Copyright Exchange" equally require that these deficiencies of UK law be remedied. A "one-click shop" for licensing works would equally invite many kinds of abuse. As a very specific example, the NUJ Code of Conduct insists that journalists maintain their professional independence and therefore forbids them endorsing products.

Journalists must therefore have the right in law to check who is licensing their work and to object to uses contrary to their "honour or reputation" (as the relevant international law puts it). We cannot allow an ad agency - or for that matter your least-favourite political party - to buy an apparent endorsement by you from an anonymous exchange.

Any proposal to make such an exchange effectively compulsory - for example by failing to correct the serious obstacles to access to justice for creators who do not register their work with it - would be to discriminate against those starting out on their careers (and, indeed, citizens who have no wish to become professional) and will be resisted.

Much has been made of the proposal for an exception to copyright to permit use that parodies the original. Any attempt to write law that permits this while not encouraging, for example, the dissemination of falsified news reports is bound to end up as a parody of the legislative process.

We observe no shortage of parody in the UK. We recommend leaving the matter of not prosecuting legitimate parody to the courts.

The NUJ will be responding in full to the consultations proposed by the government for the Autumn. It supports the *more general points made by the *Creators' Rights Alliance about the effect of the proposals on creators and creativity in general.

The NUJ represents 35,000 journalists who supply words, pictures and editing skills to publications and broadcasters in the UK and Ireland.

Last modified: 03 Aug 2011 - © 2011 contributors
The Freelance editor is elected by London Freelance Branch and responsibility for content lies solely with the editor of the time
Send comments to the editor: editor@londonfreelance.org