Please help campaign for fair contracts

YOUR UNION needs you to tell us of your experiences with contracts for use of your work, of attempts to impose contracts without negotiation, and of copyright infringements and plagiarism. Having had issues with getting it online, we have extended the survey. Please go to www.fluidsurveys.com/surveys/fic/freelance-copyright-survey-2014 by 1 June.

By the time you read this, the European Federation of Journalists will have met with the Secretary-General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the United Nations body responsible for copyright and authors' rights.

The issue of unfair contracts will be on the agenda. In Europe, your responses will feed into our responses to a study being conducted by the European Commission. The European Federation of Journalists marked World Cpyright Day on 23 April with a declaration denouncing unfair contracts. In the UK, your responses will inform a dossier requested by Viscount Younger, the minister responsible.

The bad news in the UK is that the government has published proposed "Statutory Instruments"(SIs) to extend exceptions to copyright, following the Hargreaves Review - see www.ipo.gov.uk/hargreaves for links. These SIs are what is called "secondary legislation" and would amend the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act - the primary legislation, passed by Parliament in 1988.

These SIs are a mess. They are full of ill-defined terms. If they are passed, authors and performers will have to go - expensively - to court to find out what they mean. The Intellectual Property Office response to the consultation on the draft texts was largely dismissive.

We expect the government to "lay before Parliament" these regulations not long after it returns from its Easter break on 28 April. The precedents for opposition at this stage are not good - as far as the Freelance can tell, of the many thousands of Statutory Instruments laid before Parliament since 1945 only three have been rejected. However the Creators' Rights Alliance, the umbrella of which the National Union of Journalists is a founding member, took the unusual step of writing to the House of Commons Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, objecting to these being laid before Parliament at all.

The technical issue is this: the government claims it can make these changes in secondary legislation because they are "implementing" the European Union "Information Society Directive" of 2001 - the deadline for doing which was, confusingly, 22 December 2002. But in important ways the proposals go beyond what EU law permits.

In particular, the InfoSoc Directive requires that when member states permit "private copying" that creators receive "fair compensation". The UK government continues to insist that it can legitimise individuals making copies of your work solely for personal use - a wise move - with fair compensation set at zero - a foolish one. The Freelance would not be surprised if this part goes to court.

Last modified: 29 Apr 2014 - © 2014 contributors
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