Creators' Forum Conference: Digital Rights and Collective Management, Aidan White

19th February 2004

Technical developments, particularly of the Internet, have diversified and multiplied the ways in which works protected by authors' rights can be used. Information is now available worldwide at a very little cost. Publishing houses and broadcasting companies have also started to use journalistic works in digital format on CD-ROM or on-line.

Journalists support the dissemination of information. It is essential that as many people as possible have access to quality information all around the world.

However, journalists also own authors’ rights and should receive an appropriate reward when their work is being reused, photocopied, reproduced on a different format, etc… we need a system that works at an EU and international level.

Discussions in the WSIS - which took place in Geneva last December -showed the great lack of global concerns over authors’ rights protection in the information society. After months of negotiations, the WSIS Declaration eventually calls on the recognition of the right of authors and artists. However, this provision was the result of intense lobbying and the final Declaration does not however reflect the need for an equitable remuneration for creators.

One of the main concern for journalists in the digital age is that their work is being used in electronic format, but that they are not being paid for such use. This phenomenon particularly affects freelance journalists, who rely on receiving payment for every use of their works and have to consider very carefully to whom they should grant rights of use and under what conditions.

This of course, is only possible if journalists retain their authors’ rights. In some EU countries (UK, Ireland, The Netherlands), journalists have to cope with the “work for hire” system and must transfer all their rights to their employer.

Collecting societies enable authors to manage their rights by redistributing them the collected fees.

Mrs Echerer’s recent report on a Community Framework for collecting societies for authors’ rights rightly acknowledges that collecting societies is the best option for a good protection of creators ‘rights, and that reasonable levies are “the only means for ensuring equitable remuneration of creators as compensation for free reproduction as well as an easy access by users to intellectual property works and cannot be replaced by DRMs”.

Although collecting societies must adapt themselves to new technology uses, and must in particular allow for the recovery of foreign shares for authors, they often represent a good alternative to the lack of collective bargaining for journalists. In Belgium, for instance, 60 % of press journalists have joined the collecting society SAJ JAM. SAJ allows the editor to re-use articles of his members on a web site, CD rom, etc against the payement of a remuneration (between 300and 500 euro a year- depending on the number of articles that a journalist has produced).

In important factor is that collecting societies are governed by democratically elected members, thus allowing authors to have some continuous influence on the conditions on which their works are licensed.

Digital Rights management system may offer, when they are efficient, wide control over the use of a work. It is still remain essential to determine who would benefit from these devices. Moreover, a global interoperability as well, of course, as effectiveness is of great importance to us. There is a clear need to establish digital management systems that actively secure interoperability.

Let alone the fact that DRMs have not proven to be entirely secure, an important issue for journalists is that DRM systems can also protect information that is not protected by authors' rights. This can lead to a situation where the author is excluded from the protection of his own work and thus regarded as an illegal user within the system. This could even restrict future creation.

With respect to the supposed reduction of transaction costs through the use of DRM systems, it should be remembered, however, that the range of different contracts that would be needed, the use of billing methods such as pay-per-use and other technical problems could have a very negative effect on the transaction costs. Thus it may be true that DRM systems provide a way to cut transaction costs, but it certainly has not been proven.

The current system of central rights management by collecting societies is a sensible arrangement that is needed to ensure that a journalist receives a fair share of the income from the use of his works beyond the contractually-agreed primary use. The role of collecting societies is therefore essential for passing on the remuneration received for photocopies, braodcasting protected work by cable, levies on equipment or blanck audio and video cassettes, remuneration for lending right, etc.

The EFJ believes that effective management of rights are important for the proper functioning of the global market. We therefore supports initiatives to develop this goals provided that this can be done without destroying nationally based collective management organisations and without further tipping the balance in favour of the continuously stronger media companies. We hope that the future Commission’s Communication on Rights management will reflect our concerns.