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Hollywood: Setting the Record Straight

Hollywood: Setting the Record Straight by Keith Kupferschmid

April 3, 2017

When people seek to criticize something but are unable to find a flaw in the substance of that thing, they sometimes turn to what is known as an ad hominem approach—since they can’t articulate a sound critique against the substance, they try to attack those making the argument. When it comes to copyright law and policy, the go-to ad hominem attack is to label any and everything supportive of copyright as for Hollywood, by Hollywood.

It’s time to set the record straight, once and for all. Copyright isn’t just about the major record labels and movie studios—it’s about supporting and enabling a professional class of writers, journalists, software engineers, choreographers, visual artists, musicians, graphic designers, and the list goes on. Millions of Americans rely on copyright every day to earn a living. In 2013, the National Endowment for the Arts reported that approximately 2.1 million Americans self-identified as artists[1] professionally, 35% of whom were self-employed. Another 271,000 were employed secondarily as artists, 61% of whom were self-employed. These aren’t A-list celebrities, multi-millionaires, and huge corporations. These are normal, everyday people who’ve dedicated their lives to creating and who rely on copyright.

On March 27, the Copyright Alliance and the News Media Alliance co-sponsored Fairness in Copyright, a panel discussion on the importance of copyright to encouraging creativity and investment, and how unduly limiting copyright protection harms creators. The panel featured speakers representing authors, journalists and the news media, software developers, and photographers. Notably, none of the speakers represented “Hollywood.”

Mary Rasenberger, Executive Director of the Authors Guild, and one of the panelists, discussed how between 2009 and 2015 the average yearly income for authors fell dramatically by 30%—from $25,000 to $17,500—due to the growing availability of pirated eBooks, and the “whittling away” of copyright protection through the over-expansion of fair use. There’s nothing glamorous about the difficulties creators face earning a living, as piracy and content theft become more commonplace. As John Harrington, a visual artists and another one of the panelists, put it, many photographers and other creators are self-employed, which means their income is critically important not only for day-to-day expenses, but also for health insurance and setting aside money for retirement.

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee introduced H.R. 1695, the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act, a bill that would vest the appointment of the Register of Copyrights with the President, subject to confirmation by the Senate. Despite bipartisan and bicameral support, plus the support of a diverse group of organizations, including the Association of American Publishers, the Authors Guild, the Software & Information Industry Association, and Oracle, copyright opponents, truly creatures of habit, insist on calling it a bill for Hollywood, by Hollywood. Rather than trying to come up with arguments against the substance of the bill, they dismiss the contributions, needs, and concerns of millions of Americans who rely on strong copyright protection to continue creating and to earn a living.

If copyright were all about “Hollywood,” there would be no reason for the Copyright Alliance to exist. But we do. We exist to advocate for the copyright interests of the more than 1.8 million individual creators and 13,000 organizations across the United States that we represent. They care deeply about copyright because it allows them to earn a living, to build a career, and to fulfill a dream. You should be leery of any article that purports to discuss copyright, and only references “Hollywood”—they aren’t telling you the whole story.

[1] Musicians, Designers, Photographers, Announcers, Fine artists, Writers and authors, Actors, Other entertainers, Producers and directors, Dancers and choreographers, Architects