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NOVEMBER'S London Freelance Branch meeting was in the Houses of Parliament. Copyright was on the agenda again, and in particular the government's latest attempt to change copyright law through the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill (also know, aptly, as the ERR Bill).

Committee Room 4 on 12 November; © Matt Salusbury
The august setting for the November meeting

Opening the discussion was Creators' Rights Alliance chair (and Freelance editor) Mike Holderness. We also heard from Saskia Walzel, senior policy advocate at Consumer Focus, Rosie Brooks of the Association of Illustrators, from Naomi McDonald of the Musicians Union, Lib-Dem Peer Lord Clement Jones and our host, Viscount Bridgeman.

The ERR Bill seeks to grant the Secretary of State the power to change "exceptions" to copyright - uses of your work that don't need your permission - without effective Parliamentary debate. It also includes plans for "extended collective licensing" and proposals for a mechanism to licence "orphan works."

Mike noted the jargon around the ERR Bill, and its "complexity and devilish detail." It is, he said, "as if a there's a kind of 'anti-sub' at work to make it more confusing." The proposals in ERR would, said Mike, allow the British Library to write "one cheque to the ALCS and one to DACS and with that get the rights to put out-of-print books online," and would allow the BBC a "similar arrangement" for its archive. Saskia noted that various collecting societies in Scandinavia are now allowed to "do" extended collective licensing (ECL), but only after demonstrating that they are democratic organisations with a broad membership. They had to "consult members and get their agreement... go on recruitment drives to get around 80 per cent of sector on board". Saskia thought the UK's collecting societies would need three years to reach this standard.

Lord Clement Jones advocated putting the ERR Bill's proposals on exceptions "before Parliament one at a time," and allowing the membership of collecting societies to vote on whether that body should be allowed to take on ECL. He had "about 25 questions" on the ERR Bill, and suggested that he hoped ECL wouldn't go ahead. On the following Wednesday, he spoke as lead LibDem Lord on this section of the Bill, and asked "Will the Government examine the whole issue of moral rights in the context of giving better protection to individual creators?" Those would be the rights to be identified as author, and to defend the integrity, of your work.

Rosie said cartoonists and illustrators are being "railroaded into unfair contracts for fear that they'll lose work - bullied into signing rights away." If creators "can't make a living" then the "market fails." Naomi identified "metadata stripped out of recordings" as a serious problem in the music industry. "It should be illegal to strip out the metadata," said Naomi.

Mike noted "the creative economy is vaunted as a springboard for growth out of recession, but this is not possible if there are no dedicated professionals" working in the said creative economy. The ERR's proposals will, he concluded, affect not just those trying to make a living, but also our friends sticking up photos online for free. We as journalists are not just arguing for our own rights: with so many people posting their work online this is now about the rights of "every citizen". Please write to your MP about the ERR bill - see

Last modified: 05 Dec 2012 - © 2012 contributors
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