Creating rights...

COPYRIGHT is essential to freelance journalists. Licences to use copyright words and pictures are what we have to sell to make a living. Some complain it's complicated - an impression which the Freelance tries to dispel with the "Some things you should know about copyright" guide at www.londonfreelance .org/c-basics.html. London Freelance Branch invited David Ferguson, chair of the Creators' Rights Alliance (CRA), to tell its May meeting about its work defending copyright and some of the challenges it faces, including a major government review.

THE CRA was, David reminded us, the brainchild of former NUJ General Secretary John Foster - who dragooned David, a composer of film and TV music, into chairing it. Agreeing was "probably the silliest thing I have ever done". As an alliance of organisations representing creators from book authors to zydeco musicians, the CRA is not formally constituted: it does not and cannot negotiate - rather it lobbies to change the "landscape" on which its member organisations negotiate.

The "Intellectual Property Forum" set up by the government is an example of where CRA fits in. Because it is a broad talking shop, the CRA was offered a seat. It was unlikely that any member organisation would get one.

But even when we get a seat, the government still tends to lump creators in with the "creative industries" which dominate these fora. We have separate interests. The Government doesn't get this. "They haven't the faintest clue what it's like to be a freelance, providing your own pension and sick pay." (This despite the high proportion who are barristers and therefore freelance.)

Now the Treasury has called in Andrew Gowers, until November editor of the Financial Times, to conduct a review of "Intellectual Property" - that is, the three very different areas of copyright, trademark and patent law. Will this review be important, David asked? Three weeks ago he would have said it definitely was. But then he would not have guessed that the Labour Party would be in as much disarray as it is now, with increasing odds of personnel changes sidelining the Review.

The CRA submission to Gowers is a "sort of manifesto for creators' rights," David said. It stresses that "creators' work must be rewarded, to the mutual benefit of creators, business, consumers and the economy". It insists that "freelance creators should retain their rights,  and not be subject to assignments" and presses the government to "address coercive contracts in the creative industries". And it calls for a strengthening of the "moral rights" to be identified as author and to object to distortion of your work.

In one sense, as a researcher for musicians' organisations observed to David, "copyright is a by-product". What you actually set out to create is music, or text, or photographs. And for many it doesn't go much further. In contrast to, say, publicity over the size of Sir Paul's holdings, 57 per cent of musicians registered with the Performing Rights Society earn less than £250 a year in royalties. Only 7 per cent earn over £10,000 - U2 get £12 million between them.

New technology means that any 18-year-old can have a batch of synthesisers in their bedroom or the GarageBand program on their Macintosh. They can produce "stuff that sounds like music" - and many producers wouldn't know the difference. Using them to undercut actual musicians would ensure that "the minute they are not being subsidised by their parents they won't be able to afford to make music any more."

The government is worried about call centre work going to India. If it does not pay attention, soon it will have to worry about all music and all sub-editing and news write-ups being farmed out to wherever. We already have local paper employers thinking they can get away without the local knowledge.

David concluded with a tale illustrating why creators, not corporations, should control their works. He used to be a member of "a band for gloomy spotty 17-year-olds". Recently they wrote to their record company asking for a licence to re-release their platter. The company couldn't find it. That was disadvantaging not only the band but also "the 10,000 loonies who went and bought the record when we went ahead and released it anyway, saying 'so sue us if you do remember'."

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