New fronts in copyright battles
WHAT'S HAPPENING in the world of authors' rights? How long have you got? We're reduced to summarising the main points, as new fronts open in the battle to get a fair deal for people like us who produce the lifeblood of that much-vaunted "information economy". So, from the local to the global:
In the UK, we expect the aptly-named ERR Bill to be debated in a House of Lords Committee in early January. The NUJ will be supporting the Creators' Rights Alliance in probing government intentions by helping several Lords present amendments to the Committee - though the government has put the Bill through a process designed for non-contentious matters, with no votes taken before the following "Report stage" later in the Spring. We organised, with the CRA, a meeting in Parliament on these issues. See the report here.
We also expect the government to publish proposals on extending "limitations and exceptions" to copyright - uses that can be made of your work without permission or without even payment, respectively - just before Xmas.
Meeting the new Minister, Lord Marland, in mid-November, we strongly put the case, supported by the entire publishing and broadcasting industry, that at the very least any changes should be introduced one at a time, with sensible research on the impact of each.
In Europe, we expect the EU civil service - the Commission - to announce on 4 December that it is re-opening debate on the exceptions allowed in EU law. We don't have details yet. We vividly recall a meeting with the responsible Commissioner, Michel Barnier, at which he promised that he would do nothing to undermine authors' rights. We are also aware of the very powerful pressure by a Famous Web Search Engine on other Commissioners. The Society of Audiovisual Authors, formed by collecting societies dealing with the film business, has produced an advance petition - at www.ipetitions.com/petition/support-authors - the authentic original is, like Barnier, French.
Worldwide, pressure is mounting at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). At the meeting of the snappily-titled Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights in mid-November, a US professor acting, allegedly, for the African countries was pushing for the first explicit mention in an international treaty of the so-called "fair use" provision of US law. She wants it bolted onto the side of the proposed treaty on exceptions allowing your work to be made available to blind people, which already exist in the UK and EU. There's more on this at www.londonfreelance.org/fl/1211wipo.html
The reality of "fair use", as we put it to Lord Marland, is: "You are now entering the US legal system. Please deposit $1M to find out whether the use was fair or not". None of the African countries has it in their law. In fact it appears only in US law - and in the dreams of a Famous Web Search Engine. Needless to say, we are working hard to make sure that only exceptions that are truly in the public interest are allowed, and that their scope is clearly defined in law, not left to expensive court action.