As Copyright Clearance Center’s Michael Healy frequently reminds us, “Standing still isn’t an option in the changing condition of copyright today.” Toronto’s Book Summit 16, at mid-month, was presented by the Book and Periodical Council and Humber College, and brought together several representatives of advocacy groups for a needed exchange on authors’ prospects in a fast-changing business. —Porter Anderson
By Carla Douglas | @CarlaJDouglas
Holding the Line Against a ‘Free-Culture Movement’
Everyone wants to be a writer, it seems, but no one wants to pay them.In the penultimate session of the day at a sold-out Book Summit 16, organizers were dragging chairs into the room to accommodate the crowd gathered to hear an international panel discuss the threat to author incomes from ever-increasing exceptions to copyright.
Book Summit is a one-day publishing industry conference, held this year on June 16 to open the four-day Canadian Writers’ Summit, described as a “super-conference jointly hosted by a cohort of Canadian writer organizations.” This meant that there were plenty of writers in the room, and their presence lent a sense of urgency to the discussion.
Moderator John Degen, Executive Director of The Writers’ Union of Canada, joked that when copyright is the topic, you’re lucky if 10 people show up. Not so funny was the question put to the panel: “How can we all work together to ensure our rights and incomes are not further eroded?”
Put another way, how might other countries avoid making the mistake that Canada did by granting educational institutions exceptions in its changes to the Copyright Act in 2012? (For a summary and explanation how copyright has been eroded in Canada and the current situation, Degen pointed us to diplomat and educator Hugh Stephens’ blog post, Access Copyright vs York University: High Stakes for Canadian Culture.)
The cost to educational publishers was covered in Publishing Perspectives earlier this month in More Copyright Fallout: Canadian Textbook Publishing Called ‘Not Sustainable’ and in a talk with Copyright Clearance Center’s Roy Kaufman, When Copyright Protections Are Weakened: Canada’s Warning for Australia.
In this case, the issue was who is standing up for writers? The focus of the session was announced as important work “being done at the European Parliament, in the United Kingdom, and at the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva to hold the line against a growing free-culture movement.”
Nicola Solomon, chief of the 9,500-member Society of Authors, a trade union for UK authors, delivered the bad news first: survey results indicate that professional authors’ median incomes in the UK declined 29 percent between 2005 and 2013.
Yet, quoting stats from a YouGov survey asking which occupation people would most like to do for a living, Solomon notes that fully “60 percent of respondents indicated they would like to make money from writing.”
Well, Solomon continued, “So would writers.” Everyone wants to be a writer, it seems, but no one wants to pay them. She quoted Ian Hargreaves’ report on overhauling copyright law: “Protecting creators’ rights are today obstructing innovation and economic growth.”
To survive, Solomon says, authors need fair, equitable contracts and copyright terms that support creators. What are the current concerns that stand in the way of author interests?
- Relationships with libraries, including public lending rights for ebooks;
- Educational exceptions; and
Once we make exceptions, Solomon said, letting institutions and platforms eat away at the edges, if you will, there will be nothing left. That said, there are a couple of bright spots, including work to tighten rules on parody and improved licensing restrictions on orphan books.
Barbara Hayes is the deputy chief executive of the UK’s Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society, an agency similar to Canada’s Access Copyright. ALCS collects license fees from those who want access to copyrighted work and distributes these funds back to authors. ALCS was created in 1977, “by authors, for authors.” They educate licensees about copyright—what it is, and why it needs to be recognized and observed.
From the ALCS website:
- We collect secondary royalties on behalf of [more than] 87,000 writers across the UK and abroad and pay them directly to our members, twice a year.
- We campaign and lobby on issues of importance to writers both at a national and international level, to ensure that writers’ rights are both recognised and rewarded.
Creative industries are successful, Hayes said. They bring £558 billion value to the UK economy, and yet the persistent message from copyright violators is, “Copyright is broken and irrelevant in the digital age.”
Maria Fernanda Mendoza picked up on this theme, saying: “Doctors, lawyers, teachers are not asked to give away their services. Why should authors?” Mendoza is an attorney and intellectual property consultant for the Government of Puebla (Mexico) and for International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations (IFRRO) in Panama and Costa Rica.
She explained that in Mexico all textbooks—at all grade levels and in all subject areas—are provided by the government through the school boards. For this reason, photocopying and copyright violation are concerns at the college level only. Teachers write the textbooks, she said, for which they are paid a one-time fee. “Textbook authors do not see themselves as writers.”
Katie Webb is executive administrator of the International Authors Forum (IPO), an initiative to represent authors’ rights and interests worldwide as a network of authors’ organizations. The IAF is the voice of authors at the United Nations’ special agency World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), comprising 188 member countries. Webb reiterated what other panelists had said, that a group effort is needed to counter the prevailing complaint, often of librarians and educators, that “copyright isn’t working.”
The last comment from the audience aptly came from Heather Menzies, well-known in Canada as an award-winning nonfiction author.
Why haven’t creators been protected in Canada? she asked. The dilution of author voices, erosion of protection of their rights, Menzies said, is the “extinguishing of cultural heritage and diversity.”
More on the Canadian copyright exceptions situation, Australia’s considerations of copyright protections, and the condition of copyright in parts of the world today:
- When Copyright Protections Are Weakened: Canada’s Warning for Australia
- Update from Down Under: A Few Words With Australia’s Andrea Hanke
- World Copyright Issues: A Few Words With Michael Healy
- Dr. Jessica Sänger: Germany’s Börsenverein Will Back a Constitutional Court Complaint Over Copyright Levies Ruling
- Updated: Australia’s ABIA-Awarded Authors’ Protest