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Friday, 14 March 2008

CRA enters new phase

Mike Harrison, the ABSW's eyes and ears at the Creators' Rights Alliance (CRA) detects a wind of change a-blowing...

It’s hard to get an ABSW member to contemplate anything that smacks of political action. You are, on the whole, a dedicated lot with your minds fixed firmly on the task of bringing science to the nation. That makes it all the more praiseworthy that, a few years ago, members took the courageous decision to affiliate to the Creators’ Rights Alliance (CRA), adding the ABSW’s few hundred voices to the tens of thousands brought by the giants of the creative industries.

This has already given the ABSW a share in the evidence sent up to the government’s Gowers Enquiry into the future of copyright, and a voice in the national debate about the future of the BBC’s funding.

But now the CRA is about to enter a new phase of existence. This spring will see the publication of a policy manifesto which will urge the government, the public and publishers to recognise the unique contribution that creative workers make to the United Kingdom economy and to put right some of the marketplace inequities they have to face.

The fact that the CRA can contemplate preparing such a document marks significant progress in its thinking. Its early days were marked by a strong sense of division between the various creative sectors. How could you reconcile, say, the working practices of a composer of music for television drama, with those of a photographer, a science writer, a newspaper journalist, a book author or an illustrator, to name but a few of the affiliates’ interests?

As the organisation matured it became clear that not only were there common themes in the worries brought to the table by this disparate membership but that there was a universal concern for the unforeseen consequences of digitisation of published material.

The new policy manifesto, which is now in the final stages of drafting, will pull together these common concerns and set them in a proposal which will try to define a new balance between the interests of the creators, publishers and users of copyright material. Later in the year it will be launched and a campaign to gain recognition for its recommendations will begin.

It would be wrong to pre-empt the final document by leaking the draft – at the time of writing, there is still much wrangling over detail to be done. But there is general agreement within the CRA that some matters are crucial to the future of the UK’s creative economy, especially where freelances are concerned.

For example, there is a strong feeling that ‘creativity’ gets far too little recognition as the spring from which publishing and media activities flow, and that there is a need to cosset the talent that drives this section of the economy. For example, reducing the creative brain drain – the loss of experienced writers and other creators to less creative pursuits – means encouraging creators to hang in there and develop their skills. They should not have to battle for a credit or to defend the integrity of their work. Nor should they be pressured to waive these moral rights or to submit to abuse by ‘rights-grab’ – the demand for all publication rights to be handed over for a single fee regardless of the potential for future profit.

Unless a beneficial deal has been struck for a complete handover – perhaps through the benefits of a staff post – then, having made a work, a creator should be able to control its exploitation. The common practice by which publishers hold on to exploitation rights without making use of them benefits no-one. This is one manifestation of the asymmetry which dogs creators’ working lives. They are small, under-represented micro-businesses, largely prohibited from any collective bargaining by dictat of the Office of Fair Trading; their clients are mainly powerful companies. It is small wonder that many creative workers slip quietly away from their chosen profession long before their imaginative talents are spent.

The CRA’s ultimate objective is to influence the re-shaping of the laws controlling copyright and author’s rights, but little will be achieved without some public awareness of its concerns. Government ministers are notoriously blind to issues with no public profile. For that reason, the public launch of the manifesto later this year will include publicity-seeking stunts alongside the more dignified presentations to Westminster and Whitehall. It’s hoped that these will serve the dual purpose of raising public support for professional creators, while reminding more casual creators that the digital age allows anyone to participate. It is in Jane and Joe Public’s own best interests to understand and respect the cash value of their and others’ creative works.

It’s going to be an uphill struggle but the CRA has never been better placed to speak with a powerful, united voice – that of the 90,000-plus creators brought into its fold by the affiliate organisations. And that includes you lot, so wear your affiliation with pride.

Mike Harrison represents the ABSW on the CRA’s national committee.

For details of Mike's forthcoming training sessions in the ABSW 2008-09 Briefings series*, Copy rights and responsibilities and Angling & wrangling visit the ABSW Blog.

*sponsored by the Geological Society of London

CRA affiliate organisations

  • Association of British Science Writers (ABSW) Association of Illustrators (AOI) British Academy of Composers & Songwriters (BAC&S) British Association of Picture Libraries & Agencies (BAPLA) Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIOJ) Directors Guild of Great Britain (DGGB) Garden Media Guild (GMG) Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) Musicians Union (MU) National Union of Journalists (NUJ) Outdoor Writers & Photographers Guild (OWPG) Society for Producers & Composers of Applied Music (PCAM) Society of Authors (SOA) Writers Guild of Great Britain (WGGB).

© Mike Harrison 2008