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Copyright Law

There’s Work to Do on Copyright Small Claims

Posted by Advocacy Liaison on January 19, 2018

We've never been this close.  

For years, creators and visual arts organizations like ours have been asking for a copyright small claims court. In 2016, two bills that were introduced into the House sought to establish such a court, and just last October, the CASE Act (H.R. 3945) was introduced. The CASE Act is widely supported; representatives from both sides of the aisle have signed on to co-sponsor the bill, and articles posted in trade journals, news publications, and industry blogs welcome it.

Why is a copyright small claims court getting so much attention?

The system currently in place for protecting copyrights simply doesn't work well for individual creators. If your work has been infringed, your only recourse is to take the infringer into federal court – a process that is expensive, time-consuming, and confusing.  You’ll need to hire a lawyer, and yet many lawyers won’t take on infringment lawsuits where the potential award is under $30,000, far beyond what can be expected in than many small infringement cases. The federal court systems works for large copyright holders — companies or individuals with high value copyright claims. But for many individual artists, the federal court system is simply out of reach.

A copyright small claims court would give individual creators an alternate path – one that is affordable, easy, and streamlined. And while the system outlined in the CASE Act limits the remedies – for example, statutory damages would be capped at $15,00/work or $30,000 total — the small claims court would be entirely voluntary. That means artists who registered their work, and who have a substantial claim, can still take the case in federal court.

There is work to be done.

While we’re thrilled with the amount of attention the bill has gotten, and the number of representatives across party lines who’ve copsponsored the bill, there is still a lot of work to do. The simple truth is that most bills die in committee. In the last session of Congress (2015-2017), only 3% of the bills introduced were enacted into law. The only way to get The CASE Act moving forward is to keep a spotlight on it. 

You can help by asking your representative to co-sponsor H.R. 3945, the CASE Act. It's easy: go to the “take action” pages on the Copyright Alliance website or on Copyright Defense

If your representative is already co-sponsoring the bill, shoot them an email and tell them thank you. Then spread the word to your friends, family, colleagues, teachers, co-workers, etc. Direct them to this article, and to the Copyright Alliance and Copyright Defense pages. 

Below: the Capitol Building, viewed during our January trip to lobby for copyright small claims.© Graphic Artists Guild

The Capitol

The Guild Joins Visual Artists for a December Lobbying Visit

Posted by Advocacy Liaison on December 08, 2017

​On December 4-5, the Guild joined our Coalition of Visual Artists for a trip to Capitol Hill to lobby on behalf of graphic artists in support of the CASE Act.  The Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act was introduced by Representatives Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and  Tom Marino (R-PA) in October. The Act creates a Copyright Claims Board to oversee small copyright cases in a process that for copyright holders is faster, less expensive, and simpler than the current system. While the Act has had wide bipartisan support – five co-sponsors across party lines – the Guild and Coalition members are encouraging additional Representatives to co-sponsor the bill.

The Guild joined counsel and members of the photography associations ASMP, NANPA, NPPA, PPA, and APA, as well as Copyright Alliance CEO Keith Kupferschmid, in meeting with the staffs of a number of representatives. To make the case for the CASE Act, we focused our comments on an explanation of how the very means by which graphic artists generate publicity and find new clients — online portfolios — is rampantly infringed. We also explained that with a majority of lawyers declining to take copyright infringement cases with a potential outcome of under $30,000, individual graphic artists are often left limited options when their copyrights are infringed.

The Guild will continue to lobby on behalf of the legislation, and as it works its way through committee, will work to ensure that the interests of graphic artists are reflected in the bill. We’re also asking creators to contact their representative and ask him or her to consider co-sponsoring the bill. An action portal on copyrightdefense.com has been set up for individuals to find the contact information for their representative; a sample email and telephone script have been provided.

Below: A view of the Capitol from outside the Rayburn Office Building, which houses the offices of Representatives.

Rayburn Office Building and the Capitol

Guild Responds to Copyright Office Request on Group Registrations

Posted by Advocacy Liaison on December 01, 2017

Copyright Office logoThe Graphic Artists Guild has submitted a response to a proposed rulemaking by the Copyright Office on Group Registrations of Unpublished Works. Currently, graphic artists do not have a group registration option; among visual artists, only photographers have a group registration option, and that is only for published photos. The Guild has advocated for extending a group registration option to other works of visual arts.

The proposed rulemaking by the Copyright Office establishes a new group registration option for unpublished works: up to five works may be submitted for the group registrations; all works must have the same author or joint authors; and each work must be published in the same administrative class (for example, works of the visual arts, works of the performing arts, literary works, etc.). 

Notably, the group registration option will replace the current “unpublished collection” option. In its notice in the Federal Register, the Office states that the unpublished collection option is “ineffective” since it permits the registration of an unlimited number of works, whereas a more limited option would permit the Office to more easily examine each submission for its ability to be copyrighted, resulting in a better record and more efficient system.

In our response, the Guild welcomed the extension of a group registration option for graphic works. However, we raised a number of concerns with the proposed rulemaking, notably that limiting group registration to just five individual works is unfeasible for graphic artists, who often generate a greater number of works (sketches, revisions, alternate versions) in the execution of a single project. We also asked for the Copyright Office to issue an opinion on what constitutes publication for online works since, in a digital age, the distinction between “published” and “unpublished” is often confused. 

The Guild Joins Photographers in Meeting with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries

Posted by Rebecca Blake on September 19, 2017

Guild National President Lara Kisielewska and Advocacy Liaison Rebecca Blake joined representatives from ASMP, NPPA, and APA in meeting Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) September 15th. The meet-and-greet was organized by ASMP Executive Director Tom Kennedy and occurred at Photoville, the Brooklyn-based photography event. The Guild representatives took the opportunity to thank Rep. Jeffries for his work in introducing a bill to establish a copyright small claims tribunal, and discussed with him the blow rampant copyright infringement inflicts upon illustrators and graphic artists. 

The Graphic Artists Guild, ASMP, NPPA, and APA are members of a Coalition of Visual Arists. Other association members are DMLA, PPA, and NANPA. Working together, the Coalition provides its members a unified voice on issues of concern to visual artists.

Thank you to Todd Maisel of NPPA for use of the photos. 

Advocacy LIaison Rebecca Blake and ASMP Executive Director Tom Kennedy (far right) listen as Jeffries makes a point.

Guild Advocacy Liaison meeting Jeffries, photo by Todd Maisel

Jeffries speaking with representatives from photography associations ASMP, APA, and NPPA.

Jeffries speaks with representatives from NPPA, ASMP, APA.

Jeffries took some time to take in the “Charlotsville” exhibit, showcasing the work of photojounalists. 

Jeffries at Photoville

 

All photos © Todd Maisel. Used with permission.

Photographer Impoverished by Copyright Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Monkeys

Posted by Rebecca Blake on July 25, 2017

Wildlife Personalities book by David SlaterTwo years ago, we reported on the copyright issues raised by the monkey selfie. While visiting Indonesia, UK wildlife photographer David Slater spent several days accustoming a group of crested black macaques to his presence, encouraging them to approach a camera he had preset to snap an in-focus photo. The resulting monkey selfies were an Internet hit, and Slater licensed the images through his agent, Caters News Agency. Slater quickly discovered that the images had been published in Wikimedia’s “free media repository.” Attempts by Slater to have the images removed were dismissed by Wikimedia, who took the position that since the images were not physically taken by Slater, he could not claim copyright ownership.

If the story ended there, Slater would have only experienced a loss in potential licensing revenue – in August 2014, Slater estimated to BBC News that he lost up to 10,000 £ (about $16,800 at that time) in income once the photos appeared on Wikimedia. Some of that income he may have been able to recoup through Wildlife Personalities, a book he self-published through Blurb. However, in 2015 PETA sued Slater on behalf of one of the macaques. The lawsuit claims that Slater and Blurb violated the monkey’s copyright when the selfie was included in his book, and proceeds from the selfies should benefit the monkeys. The Guardian reports that the mounting legal fees have bankrupted the photographer.

PETA’s lawsuit seems to be a stretch. In 2016, a court ruled against PETA on the grounds that an animal cannot be a copyright owner. (In the third edition of its Compendium, the Copyright Office flatly cites “a photograph taken by a monkey” as an example of a work the Office will not register.) PETA appealed that decision to the ninth circuit court, which is hearing the case this summer. As reported in the Guardian, the legal arguments heard in court approached the absurd; the judges questioned what financial benefits would apply to the monkeys, and how the copyright would be passed to their heirs.  

The lawsuit has also raised concerns among some animal rights advocates. In 2015 when PETA first brought the lawsuit, the Daily Mail quoted Laurence Tribe, a Harvard law professor and supporter of animal rights, as saying “it trivializes the terrible problems of needless animal slaughter and avoidable animal exploitation worldwide for lawyers to focus so much energy and ingenuity on whether monkeys own the copyright in selfies taken under these contrived circumstances.” As a self-avowed animal advocate, PETA’s lawsuit was particularly galling to Slater. However, he takes comfort in the fact that the attention to the lawsuit has generated greater awareness of the plight of the macaques and their island habitat.

RIght: David Slater’s book, Wildlife Personalities, features one of the monkey selfies prominently.

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