We welcome comments: please click the link at the bottom of each post to add yours.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

NEWS: The Creative Rights Alliance recovers

Despite the sad passing of its chairman, The CRA continues to tackle issues of paramount importance to writers, such as digital copyright and a European Commission attempt to clamp down on any recommendation of rates.

Cometh the hour, cometh the… organisation. As pressure on the rights of authors, journalists and other creators rises, the Creators Rights Alliance appears to have steered itself out of the doldrums which arose from the illness and recent death of its founder chairman David Ferguson.

David, a self-taught musician, had achieved eminence both as a successful composer of music for TV and as a radical advocate of creators’ rights. The loss of his energy and focus hit the CRA a near-fatal blow and it has taken some time to recover. An obituary written by his friend Mark Fishlock appeared in the Guardian on 28 July.

The ABSW has been involved with the CRA since 2001 and has attempted to play a significant part in the development of its policies. A few critics have questioned whether the Association should get involved in the fight to support the rights of such a broad slew of media creators, many not connected with writing or science.

But recent news – Google’s 'opt-out-or-be-dammed' announcement regarding its plan to digitise every book ever published, or the confused debate over the fate of supposedly ‘orphaned’ works, for example – make it clear that there really is nowhere to hide. There are corporate interests out there that will have the benefit of your work free of charge if they can get it.

The CRA met in July under its vice-chairman Mike Holderness, a freelance journalist, policy consultant, and National Union of Journalists activist. The meeting launched a redesigned website, published a manifesto, restructured the organisation and reinvigorated the sense of purpose of delegates of affiliated organisations. There has been a much-needed rebalancing, with a reduction in the perceived emphasis on music interests and the emergence of stronger voices from the other genres, including those of journalism, book writing, illustration, photography and design.

There is also a clearer definition of the role of the CRA which should remove the roadblocks set up by the demand for consensus on every policy issue. It now sees itself as a forum for UK organisations representing creators: both authors and performers, roles that are increasingly merged in the digital world. The CRA’s raison d’ĂȘtre is that organisations can, when they wish, throw their weight behind joint initiatives and statements.

An important new strategy is to seek a high profile representative to take the CRA chair as a figurehead and spokesperson. Ideally, this individual will already be active in some field of creator’s rights so that they can bring in significant networks of contacts. Nominations are being sought from the affiliate organisations.

The current arrangement over chairmanship will probably continue past the organisation's annual general meeting in November, with the vice-chair handling the meeting-to-meeting running of the organisation including setting agendas for meetings under the new chairman.

The CRA’s present administrator, Lucy Weston has decided to move on and will be replaced with a researcher-administrator (see advertisement) who can assist the chair, vice-chair and committee with policy development, lobbying and fundraising. Funding is secure until the end of the current financial year, with a reasonable prospect of support from the Journalists’ Copyright Fund thereafter.

Elsewhere, The CRA has been active in Europe and contributed to The Creators’ Forum, which met in Brussels in June. The European Commission has struck – perhaps unwittingly – at the bargaining power of freelance creators by attempting to use competition law to stop any recommendation of rates – an activity that the ABSW has recently begun, albeit through the legal loophole of characterising it as a historical record. This prohibition of rates advice has already been disputed by the CRA in UK Government policy.

The Brussels meeting agreed to approach the European Commission with a range of proposals for the support of authors’ rights in late 2009. Proposals will draw heavily from the new CRA Manifesto.

The CRA has already demonstrated in its involvement with government departments that a combined voice carries much greater clout than the simple sum of its parts. As the ABSW’s representative, I shall continue to argue that proper protection of the UK’s creative talent – the feedstock of every media sector – will in the long term strengthen UK media and benefit the economy.

Mike Harrison

The ABSW is a CRA affiliate organisation. Mike Harrison represents the ABSW on the CRA’s national committee.