“Please excuse the crudity of this model.
I didn’t have time to build it to scale or paint it.”
— Doc Emmet Brown, ‘Back to the Future’
Or in my own words, I just scrambled this post together in a hurry and didn’t take time to polish it. Typos and inconsistencies may follow. You have been warned.
Before I start: The deadline is tomorrow, July 23rd 2015, American time. If you have anything to say about this to the United States’ Congress, now is the nick of time in which to write an email and speak your mind. They are asking for responses from both American and foreign artists. I strongly suggest you check out and read through the source material I’ve linked to.
The short of it: The U.S. Congress is proposing a fundamental change to how copyright law works in USA. Presently, under current law, you inherently own copyright to everything you produce; photos, paintings, sketches etc. You do not need to register anything with anyone, you don’t have to slap a big © mark on your work, in fact you don’t even have to put your name on it. If you made it, it’s yours, and you alone have the right to say how, if and where it can be used, published or sold, and by whom.
The new proposal suggests that any and all works by all artists (and for, say, a photographer, this means every single image, past, present and future) must be registered with a new copyright department, run by private corporations. Any work not registered will be fair game for anyone to exploit to the extent of their ability, which, if they’re a well established corporation, is likely to be far, far more than you could, if the work is yours.
The podcast linked below, Everything You Know About Copyright Is About To Change, by Will Terry, with guest speaker Brad Holland, explains this and more, much, much better and in far more detail than I can. It’s a good hour twenty-five minutes, but worth a listen. There are also quite a few relevant links below the video on the YouTube page:
But wait, I’m not an American citizen, am I? I’m a Norwegian hobby photographer who doesn’t even make a noticeable profit from my pictures. Why would I care? Or, in other words, how could this change possibly affect me and other non-Americans? That’s a good question, and the answer lies in the yellow marker in the transcript below, starting about 1:04:30 into the podcast:
“It is important because unless the World Trade Organisation decides that the country’s modifications comply with the three step test, these states are likely to face trade sanctions by the trading partners. In other words we would become an international pariah and we would have retaliation against our copyrights by other countries in order to get even for what the United States … because this would not just affect American artists; this would permit American infringers to infringe the art of anybody in the world. Which in effect would make American copyright law a copyright virus that would infect the world’s intellectual property. It’s really quite an astonishing thing that they’re talking about doing.
“I could go on and explain what the rest of the three step test is about but in a sense, by the fact that it violates the first step indicates what it would do in the other cases. It would conflict with your normal exploitation of the work, because why should somebody pay you for something they can get free by getting it from an infringer? And it would unreasonably prejudice your legitimate interest because you might not want some picture that you placed on Facebook monetised and used by somebody else for an ad, which is what they’d be able to do. They see a picture of you that they like on the Internet they pull it off, they crop it, they cut out the other people in the picture, now they’ve got a picture of you they can use in an ad.”
The three step test they mention (also featured in the podcast video), which is essential to international copyright law, looks like this:
The 3 Step Test
Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution guarantees each creator the exclusive rights to his or her own work.
The law acknowledges certain fair use exceptions to those exclusive rights.
But Article 9.2 of International Copyright Law places strict limits on the scope and reach of those exceptions.
Exceptions must be limited to
- “certain special cases,
- “provided that such reproduction does not conflich with [the artist’s] normal exploitation of the work, and …
- “does not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the artist.