My View: Law necessary to protect creative work
It might be surprising that much of the writing, photographs, artwork, music and videos that we access on the internet and other media are not the work of well-paid staff working with generous benefit packages at corporate media chains, technology firms and movie studios.
Much of the content you enjoy on a daily basis was created by a vast community of independent artists, writers, photographers, musicians, web designers and filmmakers who labor at their craft, bringing unique creations to the global marketplace that delight, entertain, educate and inform.
The rights to use these works are sold to clients or retained by creators to sell directly to customers on the internet and through other means. Unfortunately, many independent creators receive scant remuneration for their time, talent and efforts. And the situation is not improving.
Plagiarism and theft have long existed, but the internet has fostered a cultural milieu in which creative content is assumed to be available for free use as if it were in the public domain.
Writing, photographs, music, artwork, videos and other creative works are widely reproduced for profit without the creator's permission or knowledge to such an extent that it is tough for independent creators to make a living. They see their work — sometimes taken from their own websites — replicating viruslike on the internet without attribution or compensation.
While amounts lost to such theft may be individually small, cumulative losses are not.
Among the wide spectrum of creatives affected by the appropriation and use of their works are authors and freelance writers. According to Douglas Preston of the Authors Guild, "authors' incomes have declined drastically over the last 10 years. The reasons are myriad: rampant piracy on the internet, a sustained attack on copyright, Amazon's relentless squeezing of publishers' margins ... and more."
While there are multiple causes of the continued decline in independent creators' incomes, much is due to the widespread, unauthorized reproduction and illegal use of copyrighted material. With unauthorized use increasing and compensation by authorized users declining, there is less incentive for talented and skilled creators of content to enter and stay in the marketplace.
How can independent creators protect their intellectual property from digital hijacking and obtain fair recompense? Registering work with the U.S. copyright office in theory provides some deterrence to fraudulent use. In reality, violators are essentially free to reproduce, publish and profit from works they did not create and have no rights to.
Currently the sole legal remedy for intellectual property theft is the filing of a copyright infringement lawsuit in federal court — an expensive, lengthy process that requires legal representation and is realistically out of reach for most independent creatives.
This remedy is best suited to large, complex cases that require counsel rather than the more numerous small ones that could be handled through small claims proceedings in which copyright holders represent themselves.
A bill establishing a copyright small claims court that will enable authors, artists, musicians, photographers and other creators to sue infringers and win damages without costly legal expenses is now before Congress.
The CASE Act (Copyright Alternative in Small Claims Enforcement Act) passed the House 410-6 with overwhelming bipartisan support. But the Senate version (S. 1273) is being held up by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden.
Last month, Author's Guild President Mary Rasenberger and several Oregon writers met with Sen. Wyden's staff to discuss his concerns and provide input. It was understood that the senator would then meet with two fellow senators and work out language making the legislation acceptable to all.
However, as of this writing, Wyden still has not released his hold and allowed the act to come up for a vote.
The CASE Act is supported by a broad coalition of respected organizations representing the creative community, including the American Society of Media Photographers; Dramatists Guild of America; American Society of Journalists and Authors; Songwriters Guild of America; Association of American Publishers; and the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators.
Sig Unander Jr. is an author, speaker and former elected public official. He can be reached at www.SigUnander.com
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