Creators' Rights Alliance - Manifesto for creators - 3: You need sound contracts
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You, in common with creators in all other fields, need strong laws and sound contractual practices to defend your rights. Left unregulated, the market will fail.

The concept of copyright springs from market failure. As we see in many parts of the world, left unregulated, the open market fails creators by allowing widespread piracy of their work, and will not reward them in such a way as to give them incentives to continue investing in their creativity.

However, as we have already seen, contradictions within the UK’s current laws regarding copyright weaken their ability to protect creators.

In legal theory, the Copyright Design and Patents Act protects creators by granting them an automatic right of ownership once a work has been created and recorded.

In principle, this right of ownership, backed up with the force of law, should give creators the ability to secure reasonable income from their work. It should confer the ability to control exploitation of the work by others who might want to reproduce, perform or broadcast it. This control would be exercised by licensing rights to the exploiter. During the limited life of copyright, the force of the law should also give creators the ability to seek reasonable redress if these rights are infringed.

That’s the theory. However, in practice things do not work like this.

Unfortunately, the CDPA treats this right of ownership of creative work as no different to ownership of physical property like a car or a sofa. This simplistic concept neglects the ease with which the intellectual property in creative work can be copied or otherwise plagiarised, especially in digital media. It also facilitates a form of binding contract whose future effects may be difficult to foresee – the so-called ‘assignment’ in which a creator passes the rights of ownership wholly or in part to another party, usually but not always for payment. Case law has shown that such a contract does not even need to be written down to be effective – for example it can be implied in a conversation or by a commissioner’s custom and practice.

In consequence, coercion, deception and other abuses abound. Whether by way of ‘standard’ contracts; total rights assignment for a one-off fee; the use of opaque language to disguise the effect of the transfer (for instance describing effective rights assignment as a ‘licence’); or by making assignment of rights a condition for being paid, artists are regularly being separated from their rights because of the sanctity of contract in UK law.


*  3: You need sound contracts: what is needed

*  4: You should get fair pay

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