Copyright Office Modernization: Through an Artist’s Lens
Posted by Guest on April 21, 2017
Guest post by Tom Kennedy, Lara Kisielewska, Akili-Casundria Ramsess, Juliette Wolf-Robin, and David Trust.
Most everyone knows the phrase "a picture is worth a thousand words." It captures the notion that one image can instantly convey complex ideas and world events, changing how we think individually and as societies. For instance, who could forget the picture of an American sailor kissing a woman in Times Square, which expressed the elation, joy and excitement of the nation as World War II came to an end. And the 1989 image of a lone protestor standing before oncoming tanks in Tiananmen Square still resonates deeply today. In both cases, visual artists--who depend on strong copyright protections to make a living--captured those iconic images.
Visual artists include illustrators, graphic designers, artists, photographers, visual journalists, videographers, and others who create and license their works for the news media, magazines, advertising, books and other publications, consumer products, digital platforms, multimedia presentations, and broadcast. Typically, they are one-or-two-person businesses and small family enterprises that not only create, but are responsible for running all facets of a small business.
To help facilitate the marketplace for creative works, visual artists have long called for modernizing the US Copyright Office. That's why we strongly support HR 1695, the Register of Copyrights and Selection and Accountability Act, which would make the Register of Copyrights, who leads the USCO, a presidentially appointed, Senate confirmed position. The bill recently passed out of the House Judiciary Committee by the overwhelming bipartisan vote of 27-1.
The Copyright Office, which resides in the Library of Congress, maintains copyright registration and recordation databases upon which creators, licensees, users and consumers depend, but which are sadly outdated. Indeed, despite repeated calls by former Registers for reform, including releasing the most forward looking IT plan in the Office's history, it has been unable to modernize because it lacks the autonomy to do so. The Office's efforts have been frustrated because it resides in the Library of Congress where it competes with many other Library priorities for resources, technology and staff. This arrangement may have worked in the past, but the creative economy now contributes $1.2 trillion to GDP and supports 5.5 million jobs. The Register must be given the autonomy to modernize the Office to suit the specialized needs of the copyright system. And it is appropriate that the office of the Register be elevated to a stature commensurate with the economic sector to which the duties of the Office are so critical.
The Office also has an important policy mission, statutorily acting as Congress' impartial advisor on copyright law and policy. Historically, the Copyright Office has been an invaluable resource to the Congress, providing expert counsel on issues large and small. This is particularly important for individual creators and small businesses, for without this dedicated "think tank," Congress might not hear the plight of our creative members on critical issues such as how to handle copyright infringement claims too small to justify the expense of a federal law suit. The Copyright Office must have the autonomy necessary to continue its vital advisory role to Congress.
Some critics of the legislation have suggested that elevating the Register is an attempt to "give more power to Hollywood"--something we in the visual arts community find puzzling. Without a doubt, the Copyright Office's technological shortcomings affect visual artists far more than movie studios and record labels. For instance, Variety reported that 563 movies were released in 2014 by the entire movie industry, which is a relatively small number of copyrights to register for an entire year. By contrast, a single photographer can take over 500 photos in one shoot, and may create as many as 50,000 individual photographs per year. Further, unlike large entertainment companies, we don't have the luxury of in-house professionals who can dedicate their time to navigating the complexities of the registration process. As a result, many visual artists forego registration, which then makes defending one's rights in court a virtual impossibility. Put another way, the Copyright Office's problems are a de facto regressive tax--the smaller the creator, the more adversely they are impacted.
Congress should swiftly pass HR 1695, thereby taking an important first step towards fixing these problems. By ensuring the Register has the autonomy necessary to begin implementing operational reforms and continuing to provide impartial advice, Congress will help ensure that visual artists and all creators can continue creating works that contribute to our economy and help shape our society in the digital age.
Tom Kennedy is the Executive Director of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP). Lara Kisielewska is the President of the Graphic Artists Guild (GAG). Akili-Casundria Ramsess is the Executive Director of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA). Juliette Wolf-Robin is the National Executive Director of the American Photographic Artists (APA). And David Trust is the CEO of the Professional Photographers of America (PPA).
Contact your Representative and ask them to vote YES on H.R. 1695
Posted by Advocacy Liaison on April 21, 2017
The Graphic Artists Guild is calling upon visual artists and those who support a vibrant creative community to contact their representatives and ask them to support H.R. 1695. The bill seeks to make the Register of Copyrights, currently appointed by the Librarian of Congress, a presidential appointee with a 10-year term with the advice and consent of the Senate. The Guild has long supported giving the Copyright Office greater autonomy and modernizing the Office. The current registration system is cumbersome, outdated and confusing. Modernizing the Copyright Office is key for creators seeking to protect their copyrights and derive an income from their work. This bill is the first step to achieving that goal.
The bill is coming up for consideration in the House the week of April 24th. Please show your support for this bill by contacting your representative as soon as possible. You can do so easily by visiting copyrightdefense.com. The website will permit you to enter inyour zip code to contact your representative by email and telephone, and supplies talking points for you to refer to.
Copyright and creative industries are increasingly important to the US economy, contributing over $1.2 trillion dollars to the US GDP. Despite this, the Copyright Office has languished with outdated technology. It has no autonomy over its budget and staffing, which are determined by the Library of Congress. IT problems at the Library resulted in a system outage that brought down the Copyright Office’s registration system for one week in 2015. A report by the Government Accountability Office listed numerous technological problems at the Office exacerbated by the Library’s IT management weakness. The Library has not pursued the implementation of a comprehensive IT modernization plan for the Copyright Office brought out by the previous Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallente.
Additionally, the Register of Copyrights is unilaterally selected Librarian of Congress, although the missions of the Library and the Office are different and sometimes conflict. The Register of Copyrights is statutorily required to advise Congress on copyright law – a function of increasing importance as copyright law is under review – and yet the Register is appointed solely at the discretion of the Librarian. H.R. 1695 gives Congress the opportunity vet candidates for Register of Copyrights and ensures it will receive the expert advice it needs.
H.R. 1695 has wide bi-partisan support. It was introduced by House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), and passed the House Judiciary Committee with a vote of 27-1. Support for the bill has been expressed by members of Congress from both parties, and from stakeholders and experts, including former Registers of Copyright Ralph Oman and MaryBeth Peters. The creative community has by and large welcomed the legislation, as indicated by a letter signed by over 40 associations, industry groups, and business leaders (including the Guild).
Support for H.R. 1695:
“Creators, Please act now. Tell Congress to Vote “Yes” on H.R. 1695.” – American Photographic Artists
“ASMP, along with other organizations, unions, and guilds representing and supporting creators and inventors, express support of H.R. 1695, ‘The Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017’...” – American Society of Media Photographers
“Making the Register of Copyrights a presidential appointee subject to the advice and consent of the Senate reflects the growing importance of copyright to our economy and culture, and treats the head of the Office like other officials, with oversight over similarly significant industries.” – North American Nature Photography Association
“To help facilitate the marketplace for creative works, visual artists have long called for modernizing the US Copyright Office. That’s why we strongly support HR 1695, the Register of Copyrights and Selection and Accountability Act…” – National Press Photographers Association
“… one can see that the Library of Congress and the Copyright Office are at odds with what they do. Making the Register of Copyright a presidential appointee is the first step in giving the Copyright Office some autonomy to effectively do what they were created for.” – Professional Photographers of America
“The Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017fills a critical gap that currently exists in the selection process for all future Registers of Copyright. No Member on this Committee, nor in Congress would underestimate the importance of the copyright economy in America. The copyright economy is a key driver of our nation’s exports. Overseeing this sector is the Copyright Office, an entity whose large impact is far bigger than its small footprint.” – Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Chair, House Judiciary Committee
“In the past, the authority of the Copyright Office to conduct rule makings has been challenged in the courts because the Register is not currently Presidentially-appointed. This bipartisan legislation would put to rest, once and for all, that question, and ensures that the Register is accountable to Congress.” – joint statement, Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and John Conyers (D-MI), Ranking Member, House Judiciary Committee
“As a member of Congress with the honor of representing parts of the greater Los Angeles region, I’m intimately aware of the importance of the creative economy to everyday Californians and the country as a whole… That’s why I’ve been a supporter of a strong copyright system—the foundation of a strong creative economy—since I came to Congress. That’s also why Congress must pass H.R. 1695, the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act...” – Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA)
“Stripped to its basics, the choice is stark: Does Congress want modernization and independent copyright advice straight and true from the expert agency, or does it want copyright administration and advice filtered through the lens – and shaped by the perspective – of the head of the national library?” – MaryBeth Peters and Ralph Oman, former Registers of Copyright
The Guild Applauds the Introduction of the “Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act”
Posted by Rebecca Blake on March 27, 2017
The Graphic Artists Guild applauds the introduction of H.R. 1695, the “Register of Copyright Selection and Accountability Act of 2017,” on March 23. The legislation requires the Register of Copyrights to be appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the United States Senate, and limits the position to a 10-year term. The bill is the outcome of bicameral discussions between House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI) with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT). It has broad bipartisan support, as evinced by the 29 co-sponsors.
Under current copyright law, the Register is appointed by the Librarian of Congress. The sudden removal of the previous Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante, last October cast a spotlight on the need for greater autonomy of the Copyright Office. Along with a coalition of visual artist associations, the Guild has advocated for that, including making the Register of Copyrights a Presidential appointee. We urge Congress to swiftly pass the bill. Currently, the Librarian is conducting a search for a new Register of Copyrights. We respectfully ask that she suspend the search while Congress considers H.R. 1695.
Why we support making the Register of Copyrights a Presidential appointment, with advice and consent of the Senate (PAS):
• Copyright is increasingly critical to the US economy, and core copyright industries contribute over $1.2 trillion to the US GDP, and employing over 5.5 million workers.
• The US Copyright Office is in dire need of modernization; some current practices date back to the late 1800s! Making the Register of Copyrights a PAS reflects the importance of the office to US economy, jobs, and creativity, and is the first step to modernizing the office.
• Making the Register a PAS ensures the independence of the Copyright Office, and that the Register is an expert in copyright. Currently, the Librarian of Congress is not bound by any standard in the selection of the Register.
• The Copyright Office resides within the Library of Congress by historical accident from the 19th century, but both offices have different missions and priorities. In fact, the Library of Congress is a stakeholder when it comes to copyright policy, creating a potential conflict of interest.
Doubleday Solicits Free Labor on Bestselling Author’s Book Cover
Posted by Rebecca Blake on March 21, 2017
Doubleday’s current book cover contest has hit the usual nerves in the design and illustration communities. The publisher issued a design contest for the book cover design of best-selling author Dan Brown’s newest creation, Origin. Doubleday states that the winning design will only be featured on a limited edition run, which will not be sold. This may explain the limited awards offered: publicity on the Doubleday website and social media platforms for the six finalists and winner, and 24 copies of the limited edition run for the winner. Despite the limited publication of the artwork, professional designers have dismissed the contest as promoting work on speculation.
One pithy response was from designer Jessica Helfand in her article on AIGA’s DesignObserver blog, “Design as Competition as Bake-Off.” Helfand describes how, throughout her career, she has been approached by professionals from all walks of life who have asked her advice on the cover design for their books. Helfand cheerfully gives her advice gratis; no tangible work exchanges hands, the conversations are relatively short and stimulating, and she considers her guidance an “act of stewardship.” She contrasts that exchange with Doubleday’s contest, made all the more stinging by the paltry award offered (which Helfand describes as “the presumed parasitic attachment to Brown’s epic social media following”) and net worth of author Dan Brown (estimated at $140 million – surely the author could cough up some sort of prize money).
A follow-up article on Fast Company by Meg Miller reports that in an email to Helfand, Doubleday clarified that were the limited edition to be sold, the publisher agrees that the designer should be paid. That response does little to assuage concerns with the crowdsourced contest model. For one thing, it normalizes the concept of work on speculation for young designers and illustrators. (Miller points out that the contest news release, published exclusively on Entertainment Weekly, seems to be targeted to students and non-professionals.) Secondly, the terms of the contest include a depressingly familiar rights grab: Doubleday claims perpetual and irrevocable worldwide rights to the copyrights and moral rights for every single entry.
The Graphic Artists Guild is unequivocally opposed to contests that require the execution of newly-created speculative work, and that require entrants to transfer all rights to their work. Refer to our “Suggested Guidelines for Art Competitions and Contests” for more information on how to gauge the advisability of entering a contest.
Below: the template supplied by the publisher begs your free work.
Copyrightlaws.com Sheds Light on Moral Rights in the United States
Posted by Rebecca Blake on February 16, 2017
In light of the Copyright Office’s Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on Moral Rights, Copyrightlaws.com has done us all a favor in posting their article, “Moral Rights in US Copyright Law.” The NOI is revisiting creators’ rights, which, in the United States, are little understood. In this context, “moral rights” has little to do with religion, but refers to non-economic rights that are personal to an author. The Copyrightlaws.com article provides an easy-to-understand explanation and background information on the topic.
The article describes moral rights as those that protect the reputation of the author (not the owner) of a copyrighted work. As set out in the Berne convention, those rights include the right of paternity (the right of the author to put their name on a work, or to remain anonymous – generally when the author has economic rights in the work) and the right of integrity (the right of the author to object to any changes to their work that may damage his or her reputation).
When the United States joined the Berne Convention, it interpreted moral rights more narrowly and concluded that between federal and state laws, moral rights are explicitly protected in the US. Additionally, the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) of 1990 amended US Copyright Law to conferr additional rights (the right of attribution and the right of integrity) to the authors of certain visual works. However, those works can only exist as single copies or in limited editions of 200 or less.
The Copyright Office’s NOI asks for comments on concerns raised “with the patchwork of protection” provided by federal and state law. The questions in the NOI are extensive, and cover everything from the effectiveness of VARA, whether copyright law provisions on content management information are sufficient, and how stronger moral rights provisions could affect First Amendment rights, to how technology could address the problems authors face in protecting their rights of attribution and integrity. Comments to the Copyright Office are due March 30th.
Copyrightlaws.com publishes articles and resources on US and Canadian copyright law, and conducts etutorials on intellectual property rights. It was founded by IP attorney Lesley Ellen Harris, who has written several books on Canadian copyright law and digital property. Harris also frequently blogs on current copyright concerns.Next Page
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