When we launched the new Copyright Alliance website, we started a series of blogs called “Five Questions with … ” to highlight our individual creator members. We asked creators to answer questions about the importance of the creative community and copyright (along with their personal and professional experiences in dealing with copyright issues). We then featured their responses and photos online. This week, we are pleased to highlight Jeffrey Bennett, Executive Director, NY & Chief Deputy General Counsel, from Copyright Alliance organization member SAG-AFTRA – an organization that is key to supporting a variety of creators, including actors, musicians, broadcasters, DJs, recording artists and many more!
1. Explain what your organization does and your role within the organization.
SAG-AFTRA is a labor union representing approximately 160,000 actors, announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists and other media professionals. SAG-AFTRA members are the faces and voices that entertain and inform America and the world. With national offices in Los Angeles and New York, and local offices nationwide, we work to secure the strongest protections for entertainment and media artists into the 21st century and beyond.
SAG-AFTRA is committed to organizing all work done under our jurisdictions; negotiating the best wages, working conditions, and health and pension benefits; preserving and expanding members’ work opportunities; vigorously enforcing our contracts; and protecting members against unauthorized use of their work. In addition, we work with governments at the international, federal, state, and local levels to expand protections for American media professionals both at home and abroad.
I am the Executive Director of the SAG-AFTRA New York Local Office, and also SAG-AFTRA’s Chief Deputy General Counsel. In the latter role I oversee and supervise SAG-AFTRA’s legal and government affairs operations.
2. What is your and your organization’s interest in copyright law? How does your organization or its members rely on copyright law to support their livelihoods?
SAG-AFTRA is somewhat unique among the members of the alliance. Yes, in some instances we represent the copyright owners themselves; however, in many more instances we represent the professional performers whose talent is used to achieve the creative vision found in films, television shows, sound recordings, and news & entertainment broadcasts. This in no way diminishes our reliance on the ability of copyright owners to freely exploit all their rights. The copyright owners’ ability to monetize their work directly relates to the collectively bargained rights of our members to share in that monetization. When copyright owners succeed in getting the most value from their copyrights, our members succeed along with them. In many of our collective bargaining agreements, our members are paid each time a work is distributed to new markets and in new territories. This requires a strong working relationship between copyright owners and artists. This is why we are part of the Alliance.
Copyright is being scrutinized like never before. The ease and speed with which audio and audio-visual works are distributed around the globe is astonishing. This new paradigm requires a strong voice to continually remind those who enjoy these works that without a strong and vibrant copyright such works may not exist.
3. If there was one thing that you wished the public understood about copyright, what would it be?
The films, television shows, internet channels, and songs that we all love, that we all enjoy in more ways than ever before, only exist because of the protections found in copyright law. Take those protections away and you may not like what you are left with.
4. What is your organization’s biggest copyright-related challenge?
See above. Educating all those who love films, television shows, songs and other creative works on the importance of allowing creators the ability to exercise control over their work, and the opportunity to reap the benefits of the time, effort, and resources that went into creating the works.
5. If there was one aspect of the copyright law that you could change, what would that be and how would you change it?
There are two – update the DMCA to improve what is a broken notice and takedown system for copyrighted works on online entertainment platforms, and establish a performance right for sound recordings so that artists are paid when their music is played on terrestrial radio.
Jeffrey Paul Bennett
SAG-AFTRA, Executive Director, New York & Chief Deputy General Counsel