Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Where is Your Head Today? With the Government, Your Art or Both?

For the past several days, many people I love and admire have only been talking about the "bailout bill" and if it will pass, should it pass, who is responsible, etc.

Dawn Clare of Spise Bliss said she believed one line said by most CEOs who are part of the economic chaos would help, "As CEO of X, I vow to take a $1 salary until...." 

Chris Nandell of Boshevo sent out letters to the press that she had heard the Orphan Works Act was being pinned onto the bailout bill, and she was angry. Chris has been ripped off once by someone mis-using her work without consent (a.k.a. copyright infringement) and fears the Orphan Works Act will make it easier for people to rip her and other artists off.

I state here, for transparency, that my parents and sister have the last name Leahy. My dad was born in Vermont. That means we're distantly related to Senator Leahy. I've never met the man but worked with several who not only know him, but know him well. He is closely linked with the Orphan Works bill and my take is that the bill is more for those of us who have done due diligence and cannot find the creator of the work...especially old work as found in archives. I will never be for privatizing of all copyright databases, and the wording of the bill is not for it either, from what I have seen. As an artist, I believe we all need to make sure we list our names and claim ownership of our work. Then, we can address issues of infringement legally. (This bill still allows us to continue to do so, but not claim outrageous/disproportionate sums in court.)

Please look at both of these bills for yourself. Links to their full text appears below. I know it is easy for your heart to override your head and react with fear. To that, I leave this quote: 

"Fear is the path to the dark side. 
Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, 
hate leads to suffering." 
- Yoda

May your life NOT be filled with fear, anger, hate or suffering. My you do your art and share it endlessly (with full credit noted and given when due). It is my wish in the Jewish New Year to wish that we are reap blessings today, tomorrow and always. L'Shana Tova.

Until Next Time,
Keep Creating!

Bailout Bill Full Text
(Courtesy of the Huffington Post)

1 comment:

Dawn said...

Hi Mel,

I'm a commercial artist, and I completely support the ORIGINAL version of the bill, which was focused on allowing museums and librarians to use historical works without fear of legal action. But the Orphan Works Bill in its present form allows commercial interests to get away with using pretty much any art they get their hands on--all they have to say is that they searched Google for some self-chosen keywords that didn't coincide with whatever my artwork is named.

Since you are an artist, you surely know that infringers already play this game... "oh, I bought the rights from someone who said they were the artist, I didn't know it was copyrighted!" "I searched for 'wolf picture' and couldn't find your name!" etc. I have several times happened upon my artwork being sold by an infringer with the copyright notice erased and once even replaced by their own. Luckily they stopped the infringement as soon as they were caught in the act... because of the potential consequences under current copyright law.

If all people could be trusted to be honest, the suggested changes to copyright law wouldn't be so frightening. A time-consuming, upsetting, costly problem for artists would become exponentially worse under the Orphan Works Bill. Under this bill, commercial interests will not be deterred by the maximum $2,500 penalty for infringement (which is the worst case scenario). $2,500 is cheap for the use of a good piece of art that you really want to put on a bunch of products, and nothing to a big company.

I know Senator Leahy means well. I know he's a really good-hearted Democrat who usually looks out for the interests of the little guy. But if he isn't an artist, there's no way he can imagine what a huge opening this bill gives those who want to take the fruits of our work without consequences. All he would need to do to calm our very well-founded fears is to add a clause to the effect that this bill does not extend these rights to commercial interests... only non-profits. That would protect the hobbyist, the museum, the library... the entities Shawn Bentley originally intended this bill to represent. I frequently give permission for non-profits to use my art at no charge, and would be happy to see the path made easier for them, especially with older works. But sales to business are how I, and most artists, earn my living, and there is no reason whatsoever they should be able to use the commercial output of working artists without permission or payment. US copyright law states that you have absolute control and ownership of your creations, and this bill flies in the face of that law.

So please, read my letter with an open mind and give it some thought. Look at the parts of the bill that are vague enough to allow all the leeway an infringer needs to get away with intentional theft and make it look "reasonable". And as a fellow artist who knows people who know Senator Leahy well, please show him my letter and express our concerns. All we need for our protection is an amendment to this bill specifying non-commercial use only of art whose owners supposedly can't be found.

Thanks for listening, and for providing the chance for fellow artists to express our opinions on this issue.