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Advocacy

An Open Letter to Political Candidates on Copyright

Posted by Rebecca Blake on August 03, 2016

Copyright Alliance logoThe Copyright Alliance has published an open letter to the 2016 political candidates, advocating for a strong copyright system and a safe and secure Internet. The letter asserts that strong copyrights protect free speech by “...preserv[ing] the value and integrity of what one creates,” and that protecting copyright is complementary to Internet freedom. The letter also warns that entities claiming to be pro-creator are funded by online platforms and have worked to block efforts to protect creative content from infringement and piracy.

The letter stresses that stronger copyright protection is a non-partisan issue: “The creative community stands united in support of a copyright system that will continue to make the United States the global leader in the creative arts and the global paradigm for free expression.” Individual creators are encouraged to show their support for the letter by signing a petition on the Copyright Alliance's website.

Coalition of Visual Artists Welcomes Introduction of Establishing Small Claims Board for Copyright

Posted by Advocacy Liaison on July 14, 2016

WASHINGTON, July 14, 2016

Rep. Hakeem JeffriesRep. Judy ChuIn the wake of its release of a white paper setting out the key components of a copyright small claims bill, a coalition of visual artist groups commends the attention that this critical issue is now garnering on Capitol Hill. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries' (far right) [D-NY] introduction, along with original co-sponsor Tom Marino [R-PA], of a bill, H.R. 5757 establishing a small claims board and the forthcoming introduction by Rep. Judy Chu (right) [D-CA] of her own version of small claims legislation establishing a small claims tribunal in the Copyright Office, are a welcomed next step in a process that will hopefully result in much-needed legislative relief for photographers, photojournalists, videographers, illustrators, graphic designers, and other visual artists and their licensing representatives. These artists are currently squeezed out of the legal system by the high cost of bringing suit in federal court and have seen their licensing revenues decimated in recent years by the proliferation of copyright infringement, particularly in the online context.

We look forward to working with Representatives Jeffries, Chu and all members of Congress to correct this inequity in America's copyright system.

Earlier this year, the coalition, which includes the American Photographic Artists (APA), American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), Digital Media Licensing Association (DMLA), Graphic Artists Guild (GAG), National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) and Professional Photographers of America (PPA), set forth recommendations with regard to key components in any forthcoming congressional small claims legislation. 

Coalition members believe small claims reform to be their top legislative priority and call upon Congress to enact legislation that provides visual artists and other small creators with a viable, affordable alternative to prosecuting copyright infringement in federal court—a prohibitively expensive and little-used option by visual artists. This approach is largely consistent with the legislative recommendations set forth in the "Copyright Small Claims" report released in late 2013 by the U.S. Copyright Office which deserves much credit for its groundbreaking effort in this area.

A copy of the visual artists’ coalition's white paper is available here.

For more information, please go to http://copyrightdefense.com/action


James Lorin Silverberg, Legal Counsel for the American Photographic Artists, Inc. (APA) said, “A Copyright Small Claims Court promises to provide authors and content users with an expedient, cost efficient, forum for the resolution of copyright disputes. But the importance of a small claims system is not merely to resolve differences between rights owners and rights users. By making copyrights enforceable in practical terms, it acts to restore the integrity of the copyright system, and copyright licensing models, and it contributes to a more vibrant and healthier intellectual property economy.”

Thomas Kennedy, executive director of American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) said, "Implementing a small claims tribunal system within the U.S. Copyright Office is essential to ensure photographers, illustrators, graphic designers and other visual artists are appropriately protected and incentivized to continue producing work that changes how people see their world."

Cathy Aron, Executive Director of the Digital Media Licensing Association (DMLA) said, “Our association supports the creation of a copyright small claims forum to encourage licensing of visual content from legitimate sources. A small claims court should help stem the tide of “right-click” image use as it offers content creators and their representatives a way to effectively enforce copyright and seek appropriate payment. The digital economy needs to work for all participants and this is an essential step forward.

Lisa F. Shaftel, National Advocacy Liaison of the Graphic Artists Guild (GAG) said, “Too often when an infringement is discovered, there is little or nothing a visual creator can do to stop the infringing use or recoup financial damages. Our current copyright laws are virtually unenforceable when damages resulting from infringement would be under $30,000. That’s not much to big business, but to self-employed independent contractors and small studios this is a significant loss of income. This relatively ‘small-value’ infringement happens to nearly every professional illustrator and graphic artist during his or her career, causing economic harm to small businesses and families.”

Melissa Lyttle, president of National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), explained the importance of such a measure to photographers. “Photojournalists tell the story of our nation and our world, and their work is a critical piece of our democracy, but rampant infringement has devalued our work and made it increasingly difficult to make a living in this field. A small claims solution has the promise to improve the financial viability of our profession and preserve the ability of journalists to tell stories that would never be told otherwise.”

Sean Fitzgerald, president of the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) said, “America’s photographers and visual creators are desperate. Today’s digital age has unleashed a torrent of ‘small’ but destructive infringements that are eating away at the value of their work, but the current copyright system is simply not designed to help with such claims. A small claims court designed to give photographers and visual creators a fighting chance at protecting their work and livelihood from infringement is sorely needed and long overdue.”

 

visual artists coalition logos

Guild Advocacy Liaison Testifies at Copyright Office Discussion on the DMCA Notice

Posted by Rebecca Blake on July 11, 2016

On May 2nd and 3rd, the Guild participated in panel discussions conducted by the Copyright Office on the DMCA takedown process – the procedure that copyright holders utilize to compel ISPs, OPSs, and technology companies to remove infringing work from websites. Lisa Shaftel, Guild Advocacy Liaison, was invited to participate on two panels as one of the few representatives of visual artists. The discussions addressed different issues with the DMCA notice, and permitted the Office to ask questions and solicit the experiences of stakeholders: creators, authors, licensing agencies, technology companies, web hosts, and others.

Jackie Charlesworth, General Counsel and Associate Register at the Copyright Office, opened the hearings by describing the DMCA takedown process as “a tale of two cities.” Her observation was borne out by the divided testimony: those representing artists and authors described a system that is essentially broken, while technology companies (including ISPs and OSPs) professed satisfaction with a process that serves them well.

A common complaint of rights holders was that as soon as their infringed work was removed in response to a DMCA notice, it would reappear; creators described spending several hours per day devoted to just hunting down infringements and issuing takedown requests. However, technology companies said they would not consider closing or freezing the accounts of repeat offenders.

Public interest group Public Knowledge, a DC-based non-profit that promotes an open Internet, went so far as to equate closing the websites of repeat copyright infringers with censorship. Rights holders on that panel questioned why the violation of their copyrights was dismissed, and pointed out that ISPs have no issue with closing down or freezing accounts for non-payment. They also described coming across online companies that exist solely to post or provide infringing content, and to immediately repost that content after complying with a takedown notice.

Another issue rights holders described in detail was the onerous takedown process technology companies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, and YouTube, as well as some ISPs, have devised. The notices seem to be a deliberate attempt to make it difficult for rights holders and creators to issue notices. (Read Vox Indie on Google’s Roadblocks to the DMCA Takedown Process for a description of such a process.)

Shaftel’s testimony on the takedown process was drawn from the responses to the DMCA survey that the Guild and other organizations ran earlier this year. The representatives from the Copyright Office seemed genuinely surprised when Shaftel stated that artists and photographers reported that some OSPs require visual creators to submit copyright registration certificates with the takedown demand. (Copyright registration is not required by law for a DMCA takedown notice.) Others even rejected that as proof of copyright ownership, since registration certificates don’t include an image of the copyrighted work.

The most startling statement came from Patrick Flaherty from Verizon, who reported that Verizon ignores any takedown notices that aren’t accompanied by a court order. If this is correct, this means that to remove their infringed work from a Verizon website, a copyright holder has to hire an attorney and go to court to get a judge to issue a court order. The onerous requirements by OSPs (such as court orders, registration certificates, and multi-step procedures) ignores the intent of Section 512 of the DMCA law, which is to provide copyright holders an expedient means to remove their infringed work, while providing a safe harbor protection for OSPs from lawsuits.

Shaftel thinks rights holders and creators were able to impress upon the Copyright Office that the DMCA process is failing them. Her takeaway was two-fold:

1. Creators and rights holders were unanimous in stating that the law needs to be revised to takedown and stay down.

2. There needs to be a standardized form for takedown notices – perhaps created by the Copyright Office – to enable a clear, simpler procedure, and prevent OSPs and technology companies from piling on additional requirements.

Shaftel is unsure of where the Copyright Office will take the findings; any adjustment to the law will have to be made by Congress. But she’s heartened that the concerns of visual artists were heard, and by Jackie Charlesworth’s assertion that she believed the Copyright Office did have the power to compose a standardized takedown notice and procedure so as to eliminate ISPs from making up their own requirements.

Below: The venue for the roundtable discussions, the Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse in New York City.

Thurgood Marshall Courthouse

Follow us on Instagram, and get a Peek into the Guild

Posted by Rebecca Blake on April 28, 2016

We’re now on Instagram! We’re working the platform to give a peek into the advocacy work we do, spread the word about design and illustration best practices, and partner with like-minded organizations. So far we’ve used our feed to participate in ico-D’s Design in Action campaign (leading up to World Design Day) – we snapped photos of unique projects that made our urban environments in Boston, DC, Maryland, and New York more sustainable. We’ll be using the account to provide a visual record of the somewhat dry advocacy work we do. Hopefully photos (like one of the extra-large cup of coffee required to get through several hours of dense copyright testimony) will bring our advocacy work to life. 

We’ve got several other Instagram campaigns in the works, designed to promote our members, showcase illustration at work, and highlight regional activities. We’re concerned about navigating the problems raised by Instagram’s Terms of service (see the note below), so we’d love to hear back on how illustrators use the platform, without risking that their copyrighted work will be compromised. We’d also love to see your Instagram posts, so follow us, and let us see what you’re up to as well. You can follow us at graphic_artists_guild or search for #everyartistcounts.

While Instagram can be a self-promotion asset to artists, the Guild does caution that uploading copyrighted work to the platform poses a risk. In 2013, the Guild joined ASMP and other photographers’ organizations in protesting Instagram’s wide-ranging terms of use, which grant the service broad usage rights to sublicense images and videos uploaded to the platform. Before posting original artwork, the Guild urges designers, illustrators, and photographers to read “The Instagram Papers” and understand the rights they’re giving away when using the platform.

Guild Instagram snapshots

NYC’s Freelance Isn’t Free Act Hopes to Redress Non-Payment

Posted by Rebecca Blake on April 26, 2016

Freelance Isn't Free banner imageIn December of last year, New York City Councilman Brad Lander introduced 1017-A, the Freelance Isn’t Free Act. The act has been championed by the Freelancers Union and founder Sara Horowitz, who launched a campaign to support and publicize the bill. An Op-Ed penned by Lander and Horowitz outlined the travails facing New York City freelancers: “more than 70% of gig workers in NYC report having been cheated out of payments, paid many months late, or paid less than they were owed. On average, these workers were stiffed out of $6,000 each year.” Freelancer are deterred from taking legal action by the high cost of lawyer’s fees, and by the financial hardship incurred by late payment. According to the op-ed, companies gamble on the chance that legal action won’t be taken, or offer a smaller payment to a freelancer desperate for funds. 

The bill attempts to address non- and late payment by requiring anyone hiring a freelancer to provide a written contract describing the work to be done and payment terms. It also requires that full payment be made with 30 days of completion of the work, or from the payment due date stipulated on the contract. To address the difficulty freelancers face in affording legal action, penalties could include double damages, attorney’s fees, and civil penalties. 

At a hearing on April 22, council members listened to testimony from over a dozen freelancers, from writers to graphic artists to consultants. Representatives from the Department of Consumer Affairs also attended, and while lauding the bill, expressed concerns that written contracts won’t forestall claims of non-delivery of or sub-standard services. In general, support for the bill seems to be strong. The Freelancers Union can take credit for conducting an effective and creative PR campaign. For example, on March 28, they published a “World’s Longest Invoice” webpage, with a  counter that totals the amount freelancers are submitting as owed. By 4 p.m. that day, the total had reached over $388,000.

The Graphic Artist Guild is a partner of the Freelancers Union, and supports the Freelance Isn’t Free bill.

(Below) In the Freelancers Union video, branding consultant Whitney Meers summarizes her support for the bill: “I support the Freelance Isn’t Free Campaign because nonpayment is theft.”

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