©2017. Published in Landslide, Vol. 10, No. 2, November/December 2017, by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder.
For almost two years, I have been proud to serve as the CEO of the Copyright Alliance, and to speak on behalf of the copyright community. The Copyright Alliance represents the copyright interests of over 1.8 million individual creators and over 13,000 organizations in the United States, and is dedicated to advocating policies that promote and preserve the value of copyright and to protecting the rights of creators and innovators.
In addition to our membership, we also have three active advisory boards—a Legal Advisory Board (LAB), Academic Advisory Board (AAB), and Creators Advisory Board (CAB). The members of these boards work closely with the Copyright Alliance members and staff on various copyright policy and enforcement issues facing our constituents.
The copyright community is a very diverse group. Our members are authors, photographers, performers, artists, software developers, musicians, journalists, directors, songwriters, game designers, and many others. The Alliance also counts as its members book publishers, motion picture studios, software companies, music publishers, sound recording companies, sports leagues, broadcasters, guilds, newspaper and magazine publishers, and many more organizations.
While our members have different interests and varying views of how copyright law should work, they all have several things in common—they support the copyright system, they rely on copyright law for their livelihood and careers, and they are harmed when the system fails to adequately protect their valuable creations from outright theft.
Before I accepted this position, I was forewarned by friends and colleagues that it would be like “herding cats,” that the diversity of the membership would prevent the Alliance from being an effective advocate for copyright and creators. Those warnings could not have been more wrong. I have found the members to be incredibly supportive of one another and of the mission of the Copyright Alliance. Most significantly, the membership has been tremendously understanding and helpful to the plight of the hundreds of thousands of individual creators whom the Copyright Alliance represents.
One of the real highlights for me has been the challenge of learning about all the different copyright issues facing the large and small copyright owners whom the Alliance represents, and getting to know and work with so many creators, users, and representatives of copyright owners whom I hadn’t worked with previously. In particular, I find it very interesting learning about the challenges faced by small copyright owners and individual creators.
Perhaps the accomplishment that I am most proud of as the CEO of the Copyright Alliance is our new website. Last October, we completed our overhaul of the Copyright Alliance website. The new website is a “one-stop shop” for anything and everything about copyright. Anyone—whether they are a creator, copyright owner, user, business, licensee, librarian, or consumer—who wants to get information about an aspect of copyright law or policy can come to our website to find it. Whether it’s to learn more about fair use or some other aspect of copyright law, determine the status of a copyright bill, locate a copyright attorney or a copyright owner, or get a copy of a recently decided copyright decision, we are dedicated to covering the gamut of copyright issues and information. During the past six months, we were pleased to learn that the new site was named an Official Honoree for the 21st Annual Webby Awards. It also earned a 2017 Communicator Award.
The job has not been without its challenges. One big challenge is the perceived divide between the technology and copyright communities. It astonishes me how this perceived divide is often so exaggerated and emphasized when, based on my many years working with technology companies at SIIA and now at the Copyright Alliance, there is much that these two communities have in common. I do not perceive the copyright and technology communities as warring factions. Instead, both groups rely on copyright to promote and protect their creativity and innovation, and both depend on innovation and technology to develop models for making new creations and inventions available for the public to enjoy.
Another big challenge I have found is that there are some groups—let’s call them copyright nonbelievers—that pit creators’ rights against the public’s interests. In doing so, they ignore the copyright law’s internal balancing mechanisms, which is ultimately detrimental to the goals of copyright. Setting creators’ rights on one scale and the public’s interests on the other is both one-dimensional and detrimental to the overall goals of copyright. The underlying assumption of these groups is that creators’ interests are distinct from the public’s interests, and that one can only be furthered at the expense of the other.
But this isn’t the case. Instead, it’s far more accurate to describe creators’ interests and the public’s interests as interrelated and mutually reinforcing. After all, at a very basic sense, the performer and the audience need each other; likewise with the author and the reader. In fact, the idea behind copyright is that a marketable right in the tangible expression a creator produces is the best way to advance the interests of both. By keeping in mind the intertwined nature of the private right and the public gain, we can better reach a more balanced and healthy approach to copyright protection.
Looking into the future of the Copyright Alliance, my goal is to effectively address many of the most significant issues that are facing the copyright industries today, including:
The Copyright Office. The services provided by the Copyright Office are critical to the US economy. With all the changes taking place in the information, entertainment, and technology sectors, the Copyright Office has never been more important than it is today to ensuring that copyright owners have access to critical services that support their endeavors. Despite the critical nature of the services provided by the Copyright Office, many of these services have not kept pace with technology and the marketplace. Many of these deficiencies are the result of years of budgetary neglect and structural deficits that have made it impossible for the Copyright Office to keep pace. Given the different missions and the systemic problems at the Library of Congress, it is essential that the Copyright Office be granted more control over its own IT, budget, and staffing immediately.
Online Piracy. Piracy remains one of the biggest problems for all copyright industries and creators. One problem in particular is the need to harmonize criminal penalties for copyright infringement to the same level as infringement of the reproduction and distribution, which can result in felony charges for willful and egregious infringement. This change has been recommended by the administration, and since that time it’s become even more essential.
Need for a Small Claims Process. It’s an unfortunate truth that today’s small creators have rights but no remedies. They struggle to protect their copyrighted works from infringement in the online marketplace. Infringement actions are particularly troublesome for visual and literary artists because of the nature of their transactions and the volume of their work. One reason for this problem is the excessive litigation costs required for bringing a claim in federal court. We need to fix this problem. One way to do so is to allow creators to bring small infringement claims before a Copyright Office small claims tribunal instead of having to go to federal court.
There are certainly many other challenges that lie ahead in the copyright community that we will continue to address. So I remain excited by the Copyright Alliance’s tremendous potential to support, educate, and protect creators on key issues, legislation, and much more.