Is Copyright Working for You?

(news & commentary)

Several of the professional groups I belong to are Copyright advocates for their members, and they attempt to not only let us know when something has changed or been decided by courts that affects our Copyright, they also tend to work towards making Copyright work better for us in the future. 

APA (American Photographic Artists) has long been one of those organizations, and one of the more proactive ones in this area. At one time they tried to create a system similar to what musicians use (e.g. BMI or ASCAP) where there was mandatory collection of funds for images that was then distributed to members. I wasn’t a fan of that approach, as it creates yet another organization and yet another set of complexity to deal with. Moreover, there are additional implications to taking that route, as it would potentially broaden fair use and require people to pay some small, new fees if they have a Web site. 

Still, it’s clear that the current Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) doesn’t work very well for photographers. Sending out take down notices isn’t an effective way of dealing with the need of an artist to profit in some way from their work. Indeed, the DMCA is counter productive as it means you’re spending time on someone who’s already used your work for free. You have a cost, they don’t. 

The APA has persisted in talking to the Copyright Office about the distribution group idea, as well as other ideas, and it seems that the Copyright Office has been a bit surprised that photographers don’t feel like Copyright is working for them. The result of that is that the Copyright Office has now issued a Notice of Inquiry. In other words, they want to hear from photographers, graphic artists, and illustrators directly about how the current marketplace does or doesn’t work for them. And, of course, they want to hear from the folks that use those works, too. Use the link in the middle of this paragraph to see their exact inquiry statement and to access the comment area. 

Personally, I’m not sure what I’m going to tell the Copyright Office. Good thing we have until July 23rd ;~). Still, opportunities to describe one’s problems in a manner where the government might then consider changing policies or laws are rare for us individual folk. It’s not like I’m personally funding a big lobby group representing my specific thoughts and objectives in Washington, DC, after all (disclosure: I belong to groups that do have lobbies, and when I was on the board of the American Hiking Society, we were direct lobbyists ourselves). 

Whatever you think about Copyright and the sale and/or use of images, it’s worth having a dialogue and making your opinion known. Thus, I encourage you think about whether Copyright is really working for you as an artist, and then let the Copyright Office know what you decided. 

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