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Tuesday, 21 April 2009

NEWS: Creators' Rights Alliance enters new phase

As writers face possible new copyright legislation and worsening economic conditions, a cross-platform body such as the Creators' Rights Alliance (CRA) can add more weight to their interests than any single-media representative body or union ever could.

The CRA currently brings together fourteen organisations (see footnote) supporting or representing members working as media creators – particularly, in television, radio, the press and publishing. They include writers, journalists, designers, photographers, composers and so on. The CRA campaigns for a better deal for them under the shifting conditions of the digital era. The ABSW affiliated to the CRA in 2001 and has been praised for ‘punching above its weight’ alongside such giants as the National Union of Journalists and the Musicians’ Union.

Over a period of eight years, the CRA has achieved significant influence. Examples are publishing a video and a legal text outlining the problems faced by copyright creators in the UK; organising national events, campaigns, conferences and seminars; making submissions to HM Treasury’s Gowers Review of copyright legislation, the review of the BBC Charter; and much else (more details available online). The CRA’s own website is currently in skeleton form awaiting imminent redesign).

Events in 2008 threatened to put an end to this activity and possibly to the organisation itself. The founding chairman, David Ferguson became seriously ill. After a period of uncertainty, during which work on a new policy statement was disrupted, he resigned at the start of this year. It also emerged that economic troubles in the larger affiliate organisations meant they couldn’t afford to continue to pay a fee related to their size – the largest being the £4000 annual sum put in by the NUJ.

A crisis meeting at the start of April sought to address these problems. The affiliation fee was fixed at a flat rate of £250 p.a. and plans laid to approach the Journalists’ Copyright Fund for fresh core funding. Re-examination of the policy manifesto draft showed that, while still too raw for general publication, it is sufficiently complete for use in lobbying government. The manifesto will be tidied up during the next few weeks and made available online. Vice Chairman Mike Holderness agreed to act as caretaker chair while a search is made for a high-profile figure who can both chair and lobby on the CRA’s behalf (any suggestions are welcome). And the CRA administrator has begun a new recruitment campaign.

Next year marks the 300th anniversary of copyright in the UK and the government is currently reviewing intellectual property legislation. We’re facing a rare opportunity to balance the interests of copyright creators against those of commercial publishers and distributors.

This is urgent. As the economy pinches, disadvantaging creators through bad deals and working conditions will degrade the industries they underpin. A cross-platform alliance such as the CRA can add more weight to our interests than any single-media representative body or union ever could. The aim is nothing short of a win-win boost to the creative economy.

Mike Harrison

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

CRA affiliate organisations are: ABSW, ALCS, AoI, BAPLA, CIoJ, Directors UK, GMG, ISM, MU, NUJ, OWPG, PCAM, Society of Authors, WGGB.