July 19, 2015

Attention Artists Of The US, Your Copyrights Are At Risk!

This really interesting (and terrifying) video about what's going on in the Copyrights Law market in the US has been brought to my attention, and I figured it was too important not to share it with you.

Right now, Copyrights Law in the US (and most of Europe) states that artists (of any kind or genre) have copyright over their own work for the entirety of their lifetime + 70 years after their death, and that without having to register your work anywhere. You created, it's yours. Period.

Note: These are taken from the video interview of Brad Holland, a lifelong professional artist and expert in the matter (see bottom of the post).

But there's a law that some have been trying to push past Congress (previously known as the Orphan Works Act) based on their claim that because there's no registration of said art, then people can't find the copyright owners so libraries and museums that want to digitize their collections (for preservation and research purposes) can't do so. Basically, the law would allow these institutions "good faith infringement" of copyrights. Sounds somewhat OK, right? Except that these same people are now trying to do the same, but for commercial infringement of any work of any artist, living or dead, regardless of circumstances. And the entire thing would devolve from the Copyrights Office into the private sector so that those individuals only (and not the artists) could profit from it.

So what exactly does this proposed law entail?

Well, to be considered the rightful owner of your art (visual or written or other), you'd have to file your piece of art AND any metadata related to it (such as the client who commissioned your work, his/her/its contact information, and all the sketches/studies you may have done). Brad Holland estimated that, for himself only, it would cost him $250,000 to do (and an inordinate amount of time as well). Can you imagine having to pay that much money (and to a private organisation too) just to be a full-time artist with rights to your own work? As if money wasn't hard enough to come by already! And to make matters worse, any person who'd do derivative work of your art, however minor the changes (for example changing the color of one thing or cropping the picture via Photoshop, which any kid can do) could register that under their own name, legally.

Basically, this new law is a proposal to legalize the theft of private property.

This problem has been going on for over 20 years now, and if artists don't unite, they're bound to see their rightful share of the profits get smaller and smaller. Because, while artists weren't looking, a whole secondary rights market has developed with the creation of a company called the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC), a privately-owned organization started by, among others, publishers who wanted to cash in on this market...and completely cut out the original artists.

Back in the 1970s, when a teacher wanted to use a magazine article in class, for example, they'd go to Kinko's and have copies made (instead of having each student buy the entire magazine just to read that one article). But the CCC sued Kinko's, saying that this wasn't a fair use of the copyrighted articles and since the CCC was the (self-appointed) representative of those artists, Kinko's had to pay them millions of dollars. And since then, Kinko's universities and any other entity that wants to use such copies in class or other have to pay the CCC for the right to do so. And we're not talking about chump change either. The most recent of the CCC's revenue numbers amounted to about $300 million. None of which went to any artist.

And with the rise of digital printing which makes the printing of copies as good a quality as the original work, their income is bound to increase steadily (if not exponentially).

The problem has been, thus far, that unlike for songwriters, for instance, artists have lacked the clout to fight this type of behavior (just check out Kristin Kathryn Rusch's posts on copyrights and traditional publishing deals if you're an author, for example).

So what can you do? 

Well, one thing you can do is join The Illustrators' Partnership.

Additional steps you can take are to write Congress and/or the Copyright Office to express your concerns about this proposed law, for instance. Please find additional sources below (which can also be found on the Youtube video's description):

Submit your letter here (if you need help finding the right words, you can check out samples here) to the Copyright Office.

IPA Artists Alert (and to sign up for those alerts, click here)

The Video Interview (information on what's going on take up the first 55 minutes, after that it's about what you can do to prevent your work (and your own life) from being stolen right from underneath you):

Additional Resources/Articles (more on the Video page):

Trojan Horse: Orphan Works and the War on Authors by Brad Holland

Orphan Works Legislation—A Bad Deal for Artists by Bruce Lehman, Esq.

Perfect and Strengthen Your Copyrights by Cynthia Turner

Artists’ Rights are Human Rights By Chris Castle

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