Thursday, October 22, 2009

Authors Groups Meet in Oslo

OSLO NORWAY Over 60 authors organizations met here this week to discuss strategies for defending authors' rights in the digitized world. Their call to action is reminiscent of the grassroots coalition that came together in the US last year to oppose the Orphan Works bill. In addition to concerns over anti-copyright legislation, authors around the world, including visual artists, face threats from piracy, unauthorized usage, all-rights contracts and, in the US, the loss and/or dissipation of their reprographic royalties.

The Oslo meeting was held concurrent with the anniversary of the founding of the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations (IFRRO). IFRRO was born in Oslo 25 years ago. In the last quarter century, it has grown to 190 members and associate members, of which the Illustrators' Partnership is one.

IFRRO was founded by a small group of visionaries who believed that there was a need for an international organization of Reprographic Rights Organizations (RROs). RROs are collecting societies that monitor and clear rights to authors' creations in collective works such as books, magazines, etc. They grant rights, as mandated by authors, collect fees and return royalties to illustrators, artists, writers and others.

Collecting societies are a new concept to most American illustrators. They exist in countries around the world, but currently, there are none for illustrators in the US. Two years ago, the Illustrators' Partnership brought together 12 prominent visual arts organizations. These groups have incorporated as the American Society of Illustrators Partnership (ASIP).

ASIP, which has been chartered as a collecting society, hopes to begin the long-overdue process of bringing accountability to illustrators' reprographic rights. The 12 founding groups of ASIP also formed the nucleus of the 85 organizations that opposed the Orphan Works bill. In future reports, we'll tell you more about what illustrators can do individually to help us build this formal coalition into a functioning society.

Another Anniversary: The 1999 Santa Fe Conference

The meeting of authors this week in Oslo recalls another anniversary closer to home: the first Illustrators Conference, which opened 10 years ago this week in Santa Fe.

The Santa Fe Conference was a grassroots event founded by 8 artists and reps who believed that illustrators should not accept a slow evolution toward the dissolution of their rights. The conference led to the creation of the Illustrators' Partnership - founded by 3 of the same artists- to act on the initiatives first raised at that pioneering event.

So now, as authors worldwide issue a call for cooperative action, we're pleased to note that the spirit of Santa Fe, invoked by illustrators a decade ago, is still alive and well in the US. It's the spirit that guided artists in Washington last year and with luck, it may yet swell and aid in the preservation of copyright law, which is the legal means by which the distinctive expressions of individuals are themselves preserved.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Orphan Works and the Google Settlement Part 3: Compelling Arguments

Compelling Arguments

On September 10, 2009, Marybeth Peters, Register of the US Copyright Office, testified before Congress in opposition to the Google Book Search Settlement. Her arguments on behalf of creators rights are compelling and we support them. However, we note with some irony that they are nearly identical to the arguments we made in opposing the Orphan Works bill last year. We don't know what conclusions to draw from this fact, but we think it's fair to draw attention to it.

We've picked several examples below and matched them with quotes from our own writings and testimony. In every case, the emphasis is ours.

Marybeth Peters on the Google Book Settlement: "The [Google] settlement is not merely a compromise of existing claims, or an agreement to compensate past copying and snippet display. Rather, it could affect the exclusive rights of millions of copyright owners, in the United States and abroad, with respect to their abilities to control new products and new markets, for years and years to come."

IPA on the Orphan Works Bill: The bill's sponsors say it's merely a small adjustment to copyright law. In fact...its provisions have been drafted so broadly it will orphan the work of working artists. Its consequences will be far reaching, long lasting, perhaps irreversible and will strike at the heart of art itself."

* * * * *

Marybeth Peters on the Google Book Settlement: "[The Book Rights Registry] is likely to have the unfortunate effect of creating a false database of orphan works, because in practice any work that is not claimed will be deemed an orphan."

IPA on the Orphan Works Bill: "As clients come to rely on these [visual arts] registries as one-stop shopping centers for rights clearance, any works not found in the registries could be infringed as orphans."

* * * * *

Marybeth Peters on the Google Book Settlement: "Compulsory licenses... are scrutinized very strictly because by their nature they impinge upon the exclusive rights of copyright holders...By its nature, a compulsory license "is a limited exception to the copyright holder's exclusive right . . . As such, it must be construed narrowly."

IPA on the Orphan Works Bill: "[The Orphan Works bill] radically abridges the fundamental principal of exclusive rights granted to creators under the copyright law, and creates a sweeping compulsory license permitting large scale unauthorized use of not only older works, the provenance of which may be difficult to determine, but also of the valuable contemporary works that are the economic life blood of those in our profession."

* * * * *

Marybeth Peters on the Google Book Settlement: "Compulsory licenses are generally adopted by Congress only reluctantly, in the face of a marketplace failure."

IPA on the Orphan Works Bill: "The Copyright Office only received about 215 relevant letters to their Orphan Works Study. From this they deduced a claim of widespread market failure in commercial markets..." " But the Copyright Office studied the specific subject of orphaned work. They did not inquire about the workings of commercial markets and there is no evidence in their report that business clients are unable to find the living authors they wish to work with. No evidence whatsoever."

* * * * *

Marybeth Peters on the Google Book Settlement: "In summary, the out-of-print default rules would allow Google to operate under reverse principles of copyright law..."

IPA on the Orphan Works Bill: "[The Orphan Works bill] creates the public's right to use private property as a default position, available to anyone whenever the property owner fails to make himself sufficiently available." "[I]ts logic reverses copyright law."

* * * * *

Marybeth Peters on the Google Book Settlement: "In essence, the proposed settlement would give Google a license to infringe first and ask questions later..."

IPA on the Orphan Works Bill: "Since orphan works transactions would occur only after infringement, the rights holder would have no leverage to bargain for more than the infringer is willing or able to pay."

* * * * *

Marybeth Peters on the Google Book Settlement: "[C]opyright law has always left it to the copyright owner to determine whether and how an out-of-print work should be exploited."

IPA on the Orphan Works Bill: "Under copyright law, no author can be compelled to publish his or her work. So by what right of eminent domain can Congress give strangers the right to publish our work without our knowledge, consent or payment?"

* * * * *

Marybeth Peters on the Google Book Settlement: "The broad scope of the out-of-print provisions and the large class of copyright owners they would affect will dramatically impinge on the exclusive rights of authors, publishers, their heirs and successors."

IPA on the Orphan Works Bill: "The fundamental problem with the Orphan Works Act is that it's been drafted so broadly its use cannot be confined to real orphaned work situations." "To redefine an orphaned work as "a work by an unlocatable author" is to radically re-define the ownership of private property...Since everybody can be hard for somebody to find, this voids a rights holder's exclusive right to his or her own property."

* * * * *

Marybeth Peters on the Google Book Settlement: "Some foreign governments have raised questions about the compatibility of the proposed settlement with Article 5 of the Berne convention, which requires that copyright be made available to foreign authors on a no less favorable basis than to domestic authors, and that the "enjoyment and exercise of these rights shall not be subject to any formality."

IPA on the Orphan Works Bill: "[P]utting pressure on creators to subsidize the creation of privately-owned registries violates the intent of international copyright law, specifically Article 5(2) of the Berne Convention: "The enjoyment and the exercise of these rights shall not be subject to any formality."
* * * * *

Marybeth Peters on the Google Book Settlement: "The ability of copyright owners and technology companies to share advertising revenue and other potential income streams is a worthy and symbiotic business goal that makes a lot of sense when the terms are mutually determined. And the increased abilities of libraries to offer on-line access to books and other copyrighted works is a development that is both necessary and possible in the digital age. However, none of these possibilities should require Google to have immediate, unfettered, and risk-free access to the copyrighted works of other people. They are not a reason to throw out fundamental copyright principles; they are a pretext to do so."

IPA on the Orphan Works Bill: "The internet has created a culture of appropriation; and immediate global access to artistic works has facilitated piracy, unintentional infringement and plagiary. But instant and unrestricted access to work should not be construed as a necessity just because technology has made it a possibility. That an artist's work now can be instantly transmitted around the world without the artist's permission or control does not justify a user's 'right' to take the work."

* * * * *

Marybeth Peters on the Google Book Settlement: "[T]he settlement would inappropriately interfere with the on-going efforts of Congress to enact orphan works legislation in a manner that takes into account the concerns of all stakeholders as well as the United States' international obligations.

IPA on the Orphan Works Bill: "This bill has been drafted behind closed doors, without a needs-assessment study, an economic impact analysis, or an evaluation of how the public would be affected by this transfer of private property from individuals to giant commercial databases...For artists, the most troubling part has been our near-total exclusion from the legislative process.

"On July 11th [2008], on behalf of all those who oppose this bill, [we] submitted Amendments to the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property. Those Amendments would make this bill a true orphan works bill. The Amendments have never been considered...This is no way to re-write U.S. copyright law."


The Register's full testimony from September 10, 2009 can be found here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Orphan Works and the Google Book Settlement / Part II

A Reversal of Copyright Law
Last Friday we summarized the basic details of the Google Book Search Settlement. Like the visual arts "databases" we opposed last year, this agreement would allow both Google and a yet-to-be-created Book Rights Registry to commercially profit from an author's work whenever they say they can't locate the author.

Both schemes would force authors to opt out of commercial operations that infringe their work - or to "protect" their work by opting-in to privately owned databases run by infringers. This Hobson's Choice for authors reverses the principle of copyright law.

The by-product of the Google settlement (again like the Orphan Works bill) would be to establish public access to private property as the default position in copyright law. In other words, it presumes:

    a.) that the public is entitled to use your work as a primary right,
    b.) that it's your legal obligation to make your work available, and
    c.) that if you fail to do so, you forfeit your exclusive right to control access to your work.
If you're an author and you wish to keep the book you write from becoming a potential orphan, you'd therefore have to register it with the Book Rights Registry run by the parties that settled with Google (and who will receive an award of $30 million for cutting themselves in).

Advocates of the deal try to justify it by saying it will make more books available to more people than at any other time in history - a claim that's no doubt true - but therefore they say, as Andrew Albanese writes in Publishers Weekly, "the massive public good of the deal far outweigh[s] the individual greivances [sic] of rightsholders."

Yet it's in this very argument that the danger lies.

Once the Copy Left has established a legal precedent that the property rights of authors can be subordinated to the assertion of public interest, they can build on that principle to enact further statute and case laws to benefit commercial interests. To do this, they'll have to chip away further at the inherent property rights of individuals.

Orphan Works: "Half a Loaf"
An example of the agenda that underlies both the Google book search settlement and the Orphan Works bill came in May, 2008, at a time when the Orphan Works bill looked to be a shoo-in by early summer. Anticipating a quick mopping up operation, the bill's advocates were high-fiving one another. But as James V. DeLong of the Convergence Law Institute reminded them, there was still much work ahead.

Calling the Orphan Works bill just "half a loaf," he hinted at what it would take to permit commercial interests to take the whole loaf:
"These possibly-orphan, sort-of-orphan, and gray literature works simply cannot be made available if the digitizers are required to make one-by-one judgments and seek permission before copying. If they are to be retrieved in useful form, then sooner or later Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and some others must be permitted to digitize on a massive scale."
Of course he acknowledged that the new reverse copyright law should not deprive intellectual property owners of their "legitimate rights." But he reaffirmed the Copy Left's fundamental premise that intellectual property owners should not be entitled to legitimate rights except in situations where they've registered their works:
"At some point, some kind of grand grandfathering proceeding will probably be required, a window in which holders of existing rights must reaffirm them or lose them." (Italics added)
Again, this is the same premise we see at work in the Google book settlement. As Lynn Chu, a principal at Writers Representatives LLC, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, March 28, 2009: 
"Under the settlement, every rights-owner in America is supposed to hand over all their private contract data, on every edition of every work they ever wrote -- and every excerpt permission ever granted to others -- at the peril of losing the money Google will be making on their backs. This is a massive burden on everyone in the book industry, making us all, in effect, Google's data-entry slaves. Indeed, in most cases such information about every permission ever granted is unlocatable. It opens a Pandora's box of disputes and mistaken claims about who actually owns what."  (Italics added)
This is identical to our warning last year about the Orphan Works bill:
"[The Orphan Works bill] would force artists either to entrust their entire life's work to privately owned commercial databases or see it exposed to widespread infringement. It would let giant image banks access our commercial inventory and metadata - and enter our commercial markets as clearinghouses to compete with us for our own clients. I can think of no other field where small business owners can be pressured to supply potential competitors with their content, business data and client contact information." - Brad Holland, Small Business Administration Roundtable, August  8, 2008
The War on Authors
Both the Google Book settlement and the Orphan Works bill have their intellectual rationale in the war on authors that began decades ago in the obscure theories of Postmodern literary critics. Their fundamental premise is that all creativity is communal and that authors are only the agents through which the community creates. This has led a handful of activist legal scholars to demand changes in the law requiring artists, writers and others to affirm and reaffirm the rights to use their own work by, in effect, licensing it from the public "commons."

This argument, Marxist in its origins, has found its unlikely champion in those large commercial Internet interests that hope to build Information Age empires supplying businesses and the public with creative "content."  By defining millions of works as orphans on the premise that some might be, both the Google Book settlement and the Orphan Works bill would allow these opportunists to profit by harvesting the work of others, providing their databases with content they could never afford to create themselves nor license from authors.

Next: Orphan Works and the Google Book Settlement /Part III: Compelling Arguments
The Register of the US Copyright Office has condemned the Google settlement in terms nearly identical to our condemnation last year of the Orphan Works bill. In Part III, we'll examine those similarities to see the patterns that are emerging from this insidious effort to change copyright law.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Orphan Works and the Google Book Settlement / Part I

We’ve been asked for news about the Orphan Works bill. Last June Intellectual Property Watch warned that it would be back during the summer. And on June 11th, Senator Orrin Hatch confirmed his intent to reintroduce the bill. We immediately put out a notice to artists. But summer’s over and we’ve had no further news. So far, so good.

Of course Congress has had other priorities: the ongoing financial mess, the health care debate and – on the copyright front – the Google book search controversy. For those who haven’t followed the news about this Google assault on copyright, we’ll try to summarize it.

The World’s Largest Library (Or is it Bookstore?)
In 2004, Google announced its intent to digitize all of the world’s 80-100 million books – and to make most of them commercially available as orphaned works. The plan has been controversial since its inception.

Google began with the cooperation of several major libraries. The libraries gave Google access to their holdings. The problem is that libraries are libraries; they don’t own the copyrights to the books they hold. In short, they gave Google the rights to other people’s work. So far, Google has scanned over 10 million books.

In 2004, the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers sued Google for copyright infringement. Last October the parties settled. The resulting agreement is 141 pages long, with 15 appendices of 179 pages. The implications for copyright holders are not clear, but what the litigants would get is breathtaking. As Lynn Chu, a principal at Writers Representatives LLC, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, March 28, 2009:
“[I]f approved by the federal court, [it would] permit Google to post out-of-print books for reading, sales, institutional licensing, ad sales, and other publishing exploitations, by Google, online. The settlement gives the class-action attorneys $30 million; a new, quasi-judicial bureaucracy called the Book Rights Registry $35 million...and $45 million for owners infringed up to now -- about $60 a title.”
Google would keep just over a third of the profits generated by selling these books online. The rest would go to the Book Rights Registry run by publishers’ and authors’ representatives. In other words, 63% would go to the parties that sued Google. In theory, the Registry would attempt to locate the authors of orphaned works and pay them royalties. But as Ms. Chu points out, the parties that sued Google – and would therefore benefit from Google’s infringement – have themselves traded away other people’s rights in the bargain:

“No one elected these ‘class representatives’ to represent America's tens of thousands of authors and publishers to convey their digital rights to Google. Nor are the interests of this so-called class identical.”

The US Department of Justice apparently agrees. Last Friday, it filed an objection to the settlement and advised the court to reject the settlement as written. On page 9 of their brief, the DOJ attorneys write:

“The structure of the Proposed Settlement itself, therefore, pits the interests of one part of the class (known rightsholders) against the interests of another part of the class (orphan works rightsholders). Google’s commercial use of orphan works will generate revenues, which will be deposited with the Registry. Any unclaimed revenues, however, will inure to the benefit of the Registry and its registered rightsholders. Thus, the Registry and its registered rightsholders will benefit at the expense of every rightsholder who fails to come forward to claim profits from Google’s commercial use of his or her work...
“The greater the economic exploitation of the works of unknown rightsholders by Google and the Registry, the stronger the incentive for known rightsholders to retain the unclaimed revenues for themselves.” [Emphasis added]

The Department of Justice also warns that the settlement fails to comply with copyright, antitrust laws and the rules of class action litigation.

The US federal court was scheduled to hold a fairness hearing October 7. But over 400 objections from around the world have been filed by rightsholders, competitors to Google and (in addition to the US government) the governments of France and Germany. Yesterday we received news that the fairness hearing has been delayed.

The Google settlement has also been condemned by Marybeth Peters, Register of the US Copyright Office. Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee last Wednesday, Ms. Peters stated that it would allow Google to “operate under reverse principles of copyright law,” adding “it could affect the exclusive rights of millions of copyright owners, in the United States and abroad, with respect to their abilities to control new products and new markets, for years and years to come.”

We haven’t had much to say about this agreement because, with the notable exception of childrens’ book illustrations (which for purposes of the settlement are considered part of the text) the agreement doesn’t include visual art. Yet like the Orphan Works bill itself, the Google Book Settlement would be a radical change to copyright law.

Tomorrow we’ll examine some of the ways in which this settlement parallels the Orphan Works bill.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Orphan Works: Back Again

In Orphan Works Land, no news has been good news, but that's about to change:

US Copyright Register Marybeth Peters told Intellectual Property Watch that orphan works legislation is expected to be introduced within the next 10 days. It is her understanding there may still be some issues in the House version to be resolved, and there are some stakeholders - such as illustrators and other artists - "who are probably going to lobby pretty hard against it."

Peters said this issue is important to her, and the fact it came so close to passing last year is almost bittersweet. "What I hope it isn't ... is it's one magic moment you get" to finally get it passed, then it doesn't happen, she said.

We don't mean to disparage the Register's comments. She's had a long and distinguished career at the Copyright Office. But her statement deserves a reality check. Illustrators are not opposed to an orphan works bill. We're opposed to this bill.

We're opposed because its scope far exceeds the needs of responsible orphan works legislation.

Moreover, illustrators and artists are not the only stakeholders who oppose it. At last count, more than 83 creators organizations are on record against it, representing artists, photographers, writers, songwriters, musicians and countless small businesses.

Last year, we proposed amendments to the Orphan Works that would have made it a true orphan works bill. The amendments were drafted by the the attorney who was chief legal counsel to the House Judiciary Committee in drafting the 1976 Copyright Act. The amendments were co-sponsored by the Artists Rights Society and the Advertising Photographers of America. They can be found here:

On July 11, 2008, we submitted those amendments to both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. In our preamble we wrote this:
As rights holders, we can summarize our hopes for the Orphan Works Act simply: to see that it becomes a true orphan works bill, with no unnecessary spillover effect to damage the everyday commercial activities of working artists. We'd be happy to work with Congress to accomplish this. No legislation regarding the use of private property should be considered without the active participation of those whose property is at stake.
Last year more than 180,000 letters were sent to lawmakers from our CapWiz site. These letters did not come from obstructionists. They came from citizens whose property is at stake. They may lack the resources of big Internet companies and the access of high powered lobbyists, but last year they spoke. They asked only one thing: that Congress respect their personal property rights and amend this bill to make it nothing more than what its sponsors say they want it to be – a bill that would affect only true orphaned work.

We urge this Congress to listen.