Copyright – more from Dan Heller

Dan Heller has made another post on image rights this week, with his Proposal for Privatizing the Copyright Registration Process which in some respects make sense, but perhaps only if you are American and in business in America. There, rather than accepting the international agreed approach, they set up a two-tier copyright system.

Like almost every other country on the planet, if you produce a creative work in America, it is automatically copyright.  But in the USA, that kind of copyright the rest of us over the world use isn’t taken too seriously, because you can only make a reasonable claim for lost revenue and expenses if someone violates your copyright.

By bribing the US Gov’t with $45, they will let you sue for totally unreasonable ‘statutory damages’ through the US court system.  However although many professionals and businesses will bother to cough up the $45 and follow the relatively simple process, it isn’t something that Joe Public will bother with.

It is fairly simple to do, and your $45 can cover a large collection of images – such as a year’s work, so long as you can fit viewable image files onto a single disk. The only slightly tricky thing for those of us outside the USA is finding a method of payment that the office will accept, and so far I’ve given up at this point.

Heller argues that by making private companies able to act as agents for the US Copyright Office,  it could become cheaper and simpler to register copyright – for example sites such as Flickr and YouTube could offer it as a part of the upload process.

It isn’t actually a bad idea, but I think I’ve a better one, simpler and that could fairly easily be applied.  Simply to abolish the US Copyright Office, which actually serves little useful function, and to come in line with the rest of the world, but to change the law and procedure to make it possible to claim sensible copyright damages .

Such a law could be enacted in any country. I’d suggest setting a minimum level of damages – perhaps of £100  ($200) with a general presumption that the damages awarded should be perhaps 3 times the normal fee for normal infringements up to perhaps 10 times for wilful infringements, together with the award of reasonable costs.

In the UK, damages could be sought through our ‘small claims’ procedure – as they can currently be pursued, although this is a system in need of some radical overhaul.  Most cases of copyright infringement are clear-cut and largely administrative rather than requiring expensive legal argument and decision, and should be dealt with by some kind of simplified process. There is no little for high legal costs – or for the kind of swingeing damages sometimes awarded in the US courts.

However, as in some other – and rather more important areas – we can probably rely on the American government to continue going on its own way.

Peter Marshall

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