The Copyright Alliance Celebrates its 10th Anniversary: Rights Holders (and Others) World-Wide Should Rejoice

Used with permission

On May 17, the Washington DC, based Copyright Alliance will celebrate its tenth anniversary. This organization, which represents some 82,000 graphic and commercial artists, 16,000 film and television directors, 125,000 film, television and stage workers, more than 44,500 photographers, 9000 plus authors, 160,000 music, screen and television performers, 1.3 million songwriters and composers, and over 120,000 recording artists is clearly the home port for the ship S.S. Copyright. The Alliance also has corporate members; 400 book publishers, 3000 music publishers, 160 magazine media companies, 350 record labels, two sports leagues, six motion picture studios, 2000 newspaper publishers, over 6,500 radio and TV broadcasters and 760 plus software and technology companies. And that’s not all! The membership also includes a number of industry associations, such as the Association of American Publishers, the Recording Industry Association of America, the Association of Independent Music Publishers, the Business Software Alliance, the Entertainment Software Association, the Motion Picture Association of America, the News Media Alliance, the Screen Actors Guild, and I could go on. In other words, it is a very big tent under which many varied elements of creativity and the copyright industries are welcome. Rights-holders and others world-wide have good reason to congratulate the Copyright Alliance on its success.

But wait, aren’t all of these members US-based? After all, it is an American organization. What impact does the Copyright Alliance have on creators and copyright stakeholders outside the United States? The answer is, “plenty”. There are good reasons for rights holders and others globally to celebrate the resilience of this US organization and the respect that it has earned. Let me elaborate.

First, the United States is a leader in both the creation of copyrighted content and in the development of new technologies and business models that pose threats (and some opportunities) for copyrighted works. The Copyright Alliance is a beacon and a champion for the creative industries in this test-bed of technological innovation. US copyright laws, although they have much in common with the copyright tradition in the rest of the world, are nonetheless unique in terms of legal interpretation. The fair use doctrine, for example, and its many legal interpretations (which continue to evolve) governs how copyright is applied in the US. While US legal precedents may not apply outside the US, they nonetheless influence public perceptions of what copyright is, or should be, in many jurisdictions, including notably Australia, Canada and other countries where there is a strong US cultural influence.

Fair use and fair dealing are, of course, an integral part of copyright and are as essential to creativity as the protection of copyrighted works. The key question is where the bright line of fair use is to be drawn. There are those in the US and elsewhere who would push the definition of fair use to such extremes as to undermine the very foundation of copyright protection. This is where the Copyright Alliance, as an advocate for the creative world, has an important role to play in resisting these excesses and in ensuring the kind of balance allows for fair use of copyrighted materials while giving creators and copyright industries the protection and tools they need to earn a living and to stay in business. The Alliance conducts consumer education (its award-winning website is a fount of information on all things copyright related including classroom resources for educators) while it also takes a robust role in advocacy. This involves the filing of amicus briefs with the courts on issues of interest to the copyright community, preparing position papers on a range of copyright-related issues and in lobbying legislators and officials, through agency filings and testimony to Congress, as do all advocacy organizations.

This is particularly important given the disruptive nature of technology on traditional copyright industries, and the need to adapt copyright legislation to twenty-first century digital realities. The Copyright Alliance, in the words of a former CEO of the organization, “is no mere umbrella organization but an organization with a unique voice that brings new perspectives into the policy debates…”.Whether it is a question of ensuring that fair use is correctly interpreted, or intervening to ensure that ISPs live up to their legal obligations not to contribute to infringement, or advocating for Copyright Office modernization, the Alliance has not hesitated to weigh in and make its voice heard.

The US is not the only jurisdiction of course where the limits of acceptable use are being tested, a current example being the German case regarding the linking to news content by search engines, without payment. I outlined some of the elements of this issue in an earlier blog. However, while it is not the only game in town, what happens in the US inevitably has a significant impact on the academic discourse in informed international circles, and in the long run helps shape the perspectives of decision makers in many jurisdictions. In other words, the Copyright Alliance has a positive impact on the global creative community by helping shape the debate and the direction of copyright policy in the US in a way that inevitably has spillover impact elsewhere. The more that US courts and legislators understand and have a respect for copyright, the more the “rising tide that lifts all boats” phenomenon will apply outside the US. This brings me to the question of economic impact.

The Alliance has some pretty impressive figures on its website with regard to the impact of the copyright industries on jobs in the US and on the US economy. (5.5 million jobs, $1.1 trillion contribution to US GDP). Copyright skeptics or downright opponents in many countries seem to equate this with US economic imperialism and view it as a zero-sum game in which vibrant copyright industries in the US mean a win for the American economy and a loss for everyone else. This is short-sighted and wrong.

In Canada, for example, there is a debate over the issue of copyright term extension where those arguing against extending the term of protection in Canada from 50 to 70 years (after the death of the creator) point to specious studies that indicate adopting a longer copyright term will result in a huge outflow of revenue (royalties) from Canada to the US. First, the economic assumptions are wrong, as I indicated in a blog last year. Second, it is incomprehensible to me why there would be opposition to Canadian creators getting the same degree of protection in Canada as they enjoy in the US. The principles of fairness and reciprocity would indicate that Canada should also give US creators the same treatment as Canadian creators enjoy in the US market.

With regard to US dominance of the software market, this is an undeniable fact but what does a vibrant software market lead to? It leads to a virtuous explosion of new technologies and new devices. And where are most of those devices, and the components that go into them made? For the most part, not in the USA. So while US software development leads to plenty of high end jobs in the US, it also creates lots of manufacturing jobs in Korea, Taiwan, China, Japan and elsewhere. This is a good example of the ongoing positive economic spin-off effect for other countries from having strong US copyright industries.

Yet another is in video games and film and television production where the major US studios and games developers have a strong production presence in markets such as Australia, the UK, Canada and elsewhere. In BC, where I live, film production, (for the most part US-financed productions), brought in more than $2 billion and sustained 20,000 jobs. Not for nothing is Vancouver now often referred to as “Hollywood North”, and is the third largest film production centre in North America.

In looking at all this economic activity, it’s important to connect the dots. Strong US copyright industries lead to positive economic impacts both inside and outside the US. The key advocate for US copyright industries is the Copyright Alliance. Is there a reason for rights-holders and creators, economic development agencies, companies and workers, governments and consumers and others both in the US and in the global community outside the US to take satisfaction from the success over the last decade of the Copyright Alliance? I think the answer is obvious; I rest my case.

So let us all celebrate this tenth anniversary. Happy Birthday Copyright Alliance!

© Hugh Stephens, 2017. All Rights Reserved.


Author: hughstephensblog

I am a former Canadian foreign service officer and a retired executive with Time Warner. In both capacities I worked for many years in Asia. I have been writing this copyright blog since 2016, and recently published a book "In Defence of Copyright" to raise awareness of the importance of good copyright protection in Canada and globally. It is written from and for the layman's perspective (not a legal text or scholarly work), illustrated with some of the unusual copyright stories drawn from the blog. Available on Amazon and local book stores.

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