Creators' Rights Alliance - Between a rock and a hard place - B: Why these abuses need correcting
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Unfair and unjust to individuals

A third reason why UK Law grants copyright protection is because it is considered fair to reward an author for the effort they have expended in creating a work and making it available to the public. Copyright is a legal expression of social gratitude to an author, for doing more than society expects or feels that person is obliged to do. In a sense, the grant of copyright is like the repayment of a debt. And, in contrast with systems of rewards (such as the Booker prize or other honours), copyright allows the public in general to determine who deserves rewarding and the size of that reward. The more copies of a book that are purchased, or the more a record is played on the radio, the greater the financial reward that should accrue to the author. The legitimacy of copyright, as a reward, derives from the proportionality of the remuneration to commercial success of the creation (typically though sales).[1]

However, with current British practices, copyright fails to reward authors, and instead rewards exploiters. This can be seen most starkly from the statistics indicating the average earnings of freelance creators. For example, the Society of Authors conducted a survey in 2000, to which 1,711 members responded, which revealed that average earnings were £16,600 per annum, with 75% earning under £20,000, 61% under £10,000 and 46% under £5,000.[2] Similarly, the PRS issues figures relating to the earning of writer members, that is composers of songs and music, from the public performance, playing and broadcasting of that music. These indicate that of 30,000 members only 700 receive total performance royalty earnings of more than £25,000, 1,500 more than £10,000, and about 2,300 more than £5,000, with 16,000 earning under £100!

Earnings of PRS wroter members

When these figures are considered in the light of the fact that the culture industries make £110 billion per annum and that the national average wage is currently over £20,000, we can be left in no doubt that, as a society, we are failing to reward the majority of creators anywhere near what they need or deserve.[3] As German law Professor Adolf Dietz observed 25 years ago,[4]

“[t]he legal purpose of copyright, that of at least indirectly safeguarding the author’s reward for his intellectual work, has all too often not been fulfilled in those cases where the principles of free contracting and free transmissibility of copyright prevail alone.”

In circumstances of pure freedom of transfer, as currently in the UK, the natural justice which copyright is intended to effect has been transformed into contractual injustice.

[1] Thus even classical utilitarian Jeremy Bentham argued that ‘An exclusive privilege is of all rewards the best proportioned, the most natural, and the least bothersome’.

[2] Kate Pool, ‘Love, Not Money’ 2000 (Summer), The Author, 58.

[3] Directive 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2001 on the harmonization of certain aspects of copyright an related rights in the information society O L 167/10, recital 10: “If authors or performers are to continue their creative and artistic work, they have to receive appropriate reward for the use of their work ….”

[4] Also, A. Dietz, Copyright Law in the European Community 190 (Alphen aan den Rijn, 1978).

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