Online only, so far: still to be proofread

International Authors’ Forum launched

A NEW International Authors' Forum was launched in Geneva on 16 December. WIPO Assistant Director-General Trevor Clarke said that the UN organisation looks forward to working with and would support it.

Author, poet and veteran campaigner Maureen Duffy said the IAF exists to represent authors' interest in copyright - or droit d'auteur as many of us would prefer it - authors' rights". In the digital age, as the ways that the public access our works are changing, the ways that authors must get paid. "But one thing does not change: the author is the person with whom the work begins."

Copyright theft is not a victimless crime - but the victims are scarcely heard, because they are individuals, pursuing the often lonely path of creation,", Maureen noted: only such authors as J. K. Rowling can easily afford to take copyright cases to court on their own behalf.

Trevor Clarke, Robert Levine and Joanne Harris © Mike Holderness

Trevor Clarke, Robert Levine and Joanne Harris listen to Maureen Duffy's introduction

Joanne Harris, who told me crisply "I'm best known for the book that was made into the film Chocolat," said that she "finds it quite difficult, even now, to stand in front of a room full of people and admit that I am a writer. I blame my mother for this. A teacher, distressed by my ambition, she took me to her well-stocked bookcase and pointed out that every last one of the authors had died, penniless, in misery, from syphilis. Because writing was not a proper job."

The problem with piracy is that the space for mid-list author is being squeezed: publishers will put money only into established brands and "as an author who likes to change direction all the time" this is annoying: "I don't want to be a brand". We need to invest in future creators, to give them confidence, to ensure that their rights are protected, she said.

Maureen Duffy explained that the IAF is for authors in the copyright sense, which includes those whose work is visual. Brazilian artist Roberto Cabot spoke again anout the necessity for an artists' resale right. "It is not the speculator that makes the value of a work: it is us, the artists."

Robert Levine,author of Free Ride - a book that essentially tries to explain the concepts "collective management" and "collecting society" to the USA - told a story about how absurd the debate about copyright can become:

Slate.com ran a story just after Martin Luther King Day 2013 about how Dr King's famous "I have a dream speech" had become locked up and inacessible and that this was due to copyright. They implied that Dr King's crusade was somehow linked to the crusade against copyright.

It forgot to mention a few things about Dr King's speech. It's not hard to find. I heard it as a child, and I'm old enough that this was before the internet. In almost all countries there are exceptions to copyright . When it falls into the public domain it will be easier to use - but it'll also be usable for adverts. I'm not sure whether I'm ready for the Adidas I have a dream campaign.

They also forgot that Dr King was a copyright litigant: he sued and won two record labels that released his speech: he felt he deserved money from his writing and performance. I don't think he hid the money away: I think he used it for his campaign.

Slate.com also forgot to mention that the piece was written by a Google lobbyist.

This is ultimately about a conflict between creators and the companies that distribute our work. Levine is not against them making money: "of course Random House wanted to get my work cheap and sell it expensively - and I got an agent to negotiate with them." But he doesn't get even to negotiate with the companies that pirate the work once published.

Even if citizen-creators aren't fussed about money they want something much like their "moral rights", but you don't hear much about "moral rights" in the US - it's right up there with "socialised healthcare" among things that US citizens avoid saying.

The International Federation of Journalists is likely to work with the IAF on specific initiatives, but has decided not to be a formal member, preferring to promote journalists' interests directly.

Maureen Duffy closed by reading a message from Egyptian writer Ahdaf Soueif:

Dear fellow authors, dear friends:
I reall wanted to be here today but the situation in Egypt makes it very difficult for any of us to be absent... Had I been able to be there I would have read extracts from my Cairo, my city, our revolution. If we writers are to be able to try to fulfil our functions as the antennae, the warning systems of our communities it helps if we can earn a living simply by being read.

Last modified: 16 Dec 2013 - © 2014 contributors
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