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The Guild Applauds the Introduction of the “Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act”

Posted by Advocacy Liaison 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.

Doubleday template for Dan Brown book jacket contest

Copyrightlaws.com Sheds Light on Moral Rights in the United States

Posted by Rebecca Blake on February 16, 2017

Copyrightlaws.com logoIn 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.

Eliminating the NEA: FastCompany Outlines What a Bad Idea This Is

Posted by Rebecca Blake on February 03, 2017

National Endowment for the Arts logoIn late January, Donald Trump’s transition team informed White House staff that the President’s budget included steep cuts for a number of federal agencies. Among the cuts reported by The Hill, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated. The news set off alarms for arts advocates. In its article, “Defunding the NEA Would Be Incredibly Stupid: Here’s Why,” FastCompany pulls no punches in contesting the wisdom of that move.

Author Diana Budds points out that while the NEA takes up a paltry amount of the federal budget – the NEA and NEH combined consume only 0.02% of the budget (or an average annual cost of 46¢ to each taxpayer) – the programs they support bring immeasurable value to urban and rural communities across America. The article also cites NEA statistics that estimate each 1$ of NEA funding yields an additional $9 of additional grants from public and private sources, generated from the legitimacy NEA funding gives to a project.

The article outlines a number of projects the NEA supports, which provide real, economic value in, for example, supporting entrepreneurship, reclaiming unusable spaces, or promoting education. Among the programs supported by the NEA and mentioned in the FastCompany article are:

• The design of a warming bassinet for premature infants, under development in Rhode Island;
• The transformation of a brownfield in Carlisle, PA (part of a larger urban renewal project);
• The development of urban spaces under elevated rails and freeways through the Under the Elevated project in New York City, organized by the Design Trust for Public Space;
• A program to educate and support entrepreneurship in the Navaho Nation, led by Denver, CO design firm Catapult;
• Building Hero Initiative, conducted by a Philadelphia non-profit Tiny WPA, which brings children and adults from diverse backgrounds to collaborate on design projects.

Budds encourages readers to contact the their Congressional members to request that funding isn’t pulled from the NEA and NEH. Both programs are operating under short-term budgeting that lasts only through April.

You can read the entire article here.

Response Submitted to Copyright Office Reform Policy Proposal

Posted by Advocacy Liaison on January 31, 2017

House Judiciary Committee logo

The Guild joined the Coalition of Visual Artists in submitting a response to the policy proposal for reform of the Copyright Office, drafted by House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte (R – VA) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D – MI). The proposal, released in early December, called for greater autonomy for the Copyright Office, the creation of an advisory committee, IT modernization, and the creation of a copyright small claims tribunal. The Guild welcomed the attention the policy proposal brought to reform of the Copyright Office.

In our response, the Coalition solidly supports the Judiciary Committee’s call for greater autonomy of the Copyright Office, providing that the Office’s statutory duties, such as providing counsel to Congress, are preserved. The Coalition also urges that modernization of the Office’s IT structure begin as quickly as possible, with technology solutions such as APIs built into a database structure so as to facilitate registration and copyright searches. In regard to the creation of a copyright small claims tribunal, the Coalition letter extended an in-depth discussion of the purpose and components of such legislation, drawing from a white paper the Coalition published last year.

Coalition signees to the letter include American Photographic Artists, American Society of Media Photographers, Digital Media Licensing Association, Graphic Artists Guild, National Press Photographers Association, North American Nature Photography Association, and Professional Photographers of America.

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