Yesterday at Public Knowledge we welcomed the debut of the Authors Alliance. The Authors Alliance is made up of authors who are concerned that many efforts to strengthen copyright have failed them.
Too often here in Washington, copyright debates are framed in terms of “creators” vs. “technology” or “creators” vs. “users.” In reality, this dichotomy is false. It obscures the fact that creators benefit from technology, that makers of technology are creators, and individuals are often both creators and users of works. Moreover, it often misses the point that good copyright law benefits both the creator of any given work and the public hoping to access it.
We hope the Authors Alliance will help highlight all of those all too easily forgotten aspects of the copyright policy debate. The Alliance is made up of authors – “creators” in the classic dichotomy – who don’t necessarily believe that increasing the scope and strength of copyright is the only way to improve it.
Of course, that does not mean that members of the Alliance believe that copyright could not benefit from reform. In fact, today the Alliance is debuting four principles to guide copyright reform:
Further Empower Authors to Disseminate Their Works
This principle focuses on ways to make sure that it is as easy as possible for authors to disseminate their works as they see fit. That means making it harder for authors to lose control of their rights through opaque contractual language, while making it easier for authors to be cited as the true authors of works. It also means simplifying the process for terminating copyright transfers and making it possible to dedicate a work to the public domain if the author chooses to do so.
Improve Information Flows About Copyright Ownership
One of the biggest problems for all users of the copyright system is that it can be very hard to figure out who exactly owns the rights to a given work. No one benefits from this situation, and the Alliance is urging for improvement in our records of copyright ownership. In addition to simplifying registration (and providing incentives to register), this means keeping records of transfers of ownership for rights already in the system and making those records public.
Affirm the Vitality of Limits on Copyright that Enable Us to Do Our Work and Research
The Alliance is made up of professional authors, many of whom are also researchers and academics. They recognize that creative works build on the works that come before them. In light of this, limitations on copyright can be just as important to creators as copyright protections. In order to make it simpler to use works that are not protected by copyright (or use protected works in ways that do not infringe on copyright), the Alliance calls for clarification of fair use and the scope of copyright. The Alliance also wants to avoid situations where fear of copyright infringement undermines attempts to preserve, archive, and safeguard works.
Ensure that Copyright’s Remedies and Enforcement Mechanisms Protect Our Interests
Although it is important to give creators a way to enforce their rights, the Alliance also recognizes that some types of remedies act to discourage the creation of some types of works. Balance between these two necessities is critical to a sustainable copyright policy. The Alliance highlights concerns with statutory damages, enforcement mechanisms that can be abused to censor legitimate works, and process reforms as ways to help restore balance to the system.
As the policy debate surrounding copyright begins to heat up, the only way forward is to move beyond simple dichotomies and towards addressing the real, complex concerns of everyone involved in the copyright system. We look forward to working with the Authors Alliance, and hope it serves as an important reminder that copyright is never as simple as us vs. them.
Image credit Authors Alliance