Reinventing copyright

January 2016 issue

Reinventing copyright

PPA educates lawmakers

In November, PPA led a coalition of visual artist organizations to host a copyright briefing for lawmakers in Washington, D.C. “Visual Artists in America: the Untold Story of Copyright” was presented to the Creative Rights Caucus, a bipartisan group dedicated to protecting the rights of content creators. More than 100 policymakers and congressional staffers attended.

The briefing was conducted by a panel of working visual artists—a portrait photographer, a wedding photographer, a commercial photographer, an illustrator, and a graphic designer—and was devised to educate lawmakers about the challenges visual artists face in safeguarding their original work from copyright infringement.

PPA’s position is that outdated copyright legislation is flawed in such a way that it’s nearly impossible for the average photographer both to protect their work and to obtain remuneration when it’s used illegally.

CEO David Trust meets with lawmakers on a regular basis in the effort to reform copyright legislation in three primary ways:

  • Creating a small claims process for addressing copyright infringement. Copyright disputes are currently handled in federal court, which is cost-prohibitive in itself. In addition, attorneys typically won’t take a case unless it meets a minimum $30,000 infringement value. The typical infringement experienced by PPA photographers is generally no more than $3,000 to $5,000. Mary Fisk-Taylor, M.Photog.Cr., CPP, ABI, API, was the portrait photographer who spoke at the Caucus briefing. “If we don’t implement a small claims process for copyright enforcement, even if we create a perfect registration system, it will be irrelevant for small business creators for whom it’s not feasible to sue in federal court,” she told lawmakers.
  • Establishing a self-deposit process for registering work with the Copyright Office. Today, photographers must upload digital files to the system during the registration process, which is tedious for users and a burden to the online system. With self-deposit, photographers could retain their own files much as people retain tax records in case the IRS needs proof or reference material at a later date.
  • Removing the “unpublished” and “published” designations from the registration process. When works are registered, they must be described as “unpublished” or “published,” but with the advent of the Internet, no one, including the Copyright Office, is certain how “published” should be defined in the context of visual arts industries. Ultimately, that distinction has no bearing on whether a work can and should be copyrighted.  

 “There is a one-size-fits-all process for copyright that works well for lower-volume creators—the motion pictures, the larger corporate creators,” Trust says. “But the vast majority of creators are mom-and-pop creators—photographers who shoot weddings and portraits.”

“Visual Artists in America” briefing brought those voices to the forefront.

 “I do not think I have ever been prouder to be a member of PPA than I am today with this event happening in our nation’s capital,” said PPA President Michael Timmons, M.Photog.M.Artist.Cr., CPP, F-ASP. “Today is an awesome day for PPA, its members, and the creative community at large.”

For updates on copyright reform:

Amanda Arnold is the associate editor of Professional Photographer.

Tags: copyrightcopyright advocacycopyright small claimsppa member benefits

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