Net Neutrality and Creators

My sense is that when artists think about or discuss their economic and political interests, copyright law is often the dancing elephant in the center ring that unfortunately draws too much attention from other issues that creators should also be worried about.  One very important issue is net neutrality, which has been in the news recently.

On September 9 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit heard arguments from Verizon, which is challenging FCC rules designed to keep the internet open and neutral.  If net neutrality hasn’t been on your radar, and you don’t know anything about common carrier rules, or how they affect the internet, I would recommend you catch up by reading this article by Timothy Lee in the Washington Post (Sept. 10, 2013).  Net Neutrality is on Trial in Washington.  Here’s What You Need to Know.  (See also the other resources listed below).

Net neutrality matters to all creators, if you consider what the marketplace for artistic services might look like if Verizon, AT&T, Time-Warner, and COMCAST win their fight to lock up internet access and content.  Increased costs just for access, plus arbitrary data caps with associated high fees and penalties, will mean fewer consumers buying less content; suppression of competitors will reduce the need for providing quality service and programming; fewer buyers of creative works will mean that the big players will have increased leverage over what they pay you for your work.  And that’s just looking at a loss of net neutrality from a purely business and financial bottom-line viewpoint; from an ordinary citizen’s vantage, allowing a handful of corporations to monopolize the internet and choose what content is favored, or even available, would be an unthinkable assault on the basic rights of all Americans.

It’s worth mentioning here that the Graphic Artists Guild, as an associate member of the Copyright Alliance, is actually in league against the interests of creators.  While the Alliance regularly sends out its clowns to keep everyone’s attention focused on the copyright elephant, its lobbyists are busy at their real day jobs representing Nickles Group LLC clients COMCAST and AT&T, not to mention a slew of other corporate interests that are very unfriendly to the creative community.

Here are a number of other articles and resources for catching up on the issue of net neutrality, and what the telecoms are up to:


Eli Clifton. The Telecom Astroturf Lobby. The American Independent. Sept. 11, 2013.

Michael J. Copps. The New Telecom Oligarchs. The Nation, April 3, 2013.

Michael Weinberg. If You Are Streaming Video, You Can’t Cap Your Rivals (Time Warner Cable Edition)., August 28, 2013

Timothy Karr.  Verizon’s Plan to Break the Internet.  Common Dreams, Sept. 21, 2013.

Moyers & Company.  Susan Crawford on Why U.S. Internet Access is Slow, Costly and Unfair.  Video interview, Feb. 8, 2013.


Meeting Recap: The Copyright Jungle

Jungle with snake illustration

(NOTE: Originally published Oct. 26, 2012, this post was re-edited for public display, Sept. 20, 2013.  The IAG is no longer my interest group at the NYC chapter of the Graphic Artists Guild, and I am no longer an officer, volunteer, or member of the Graphic Artists Guild.)

If you’ve been around the Guild for any length of time, or are serious about making a living as an illustrator, then you are of course familiar with the basics of copyright. You probably know the drill when it comes to registering works with the U.S. Copyright Office, and likely have attended one or more lectures on copyright such as those hosted by our chapter. If you’ve been around the block as an illustrator, then maybe you’ve even hired an attorney to help solve a copyright-related business issue, and so experienced the thrilling complexities of the law first-hand.

The thing is, there’s a lot more to copyright than just those everyday aspects such as registering and managing the usage of your intellectual property. Of course there is; how could there not be?! After all, copyright law has everything to do with who owns stuff, who profits, and how business gets done around the globe. It is therefore tangled up in many of the other social, economic, and political controversies happening all around us; money in politics and corporate influence; erosion of free speech and other constitutional rights; complex and potentially dangerous global trade policies; control and abuse of technology; and disruptions to both domestic and international labor markets.

The research I did on the Copyright Alliance brought home to me that there are serious and important battles being fought over copyright, going on right now in government offices, corporate board rooms, and in the courts. If you are a Guild member, pay attention; some of your dues money* has gone to the Copyright Alliance, allegedly to help strengthen copyright protections for artists and illustrators. However, since it turns out that the Alliance is a front group for corporate interests, namely big media and telecom giants such as the MPAA, COMCAST, and AT&T,  you might not be very happy when I tell you that your money also went to support a few things you’d be less likely to approve of: erosion of the FCC’s net neutrality policies that prevent Comcast and other major service providers from gaining excessive control over the internet; support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which might do further harm to democratic controls on international trade, already damaged by NAFTA, CAFTA, and other treaties; and support for SOPA, that thoroughly disgraced attempt to alter internet protocols for the purpose of increasing corporate control over web content.

The Copyright Alliance is only one of the many species of animals in the copyright jungle that are working hard to alter laws and policies to suit their interests. I’ve assembled below something of a scouting report on the critters and the terrain I encountered while researching the Copyright Alliance, and have also included a few links and resources to help you figure things out for yourself. Good luck with that!

While way too numerous and nuanced to list individually, they can be divided into a few general categories:

Maximalists. Corporate interests mostly, seeking rock-solid protections for what they currently own, control over the means to access both their stuff (and everyone else’s), the suppression of competition, and the ability to cheaply acquire all the stuff they don’t yet own.

Minimalists. Consumer-oriented interests that would like access to everything at no cost.

Economic Hybrids. Businesses that both use and produce creative works, or have multiple and competing interests affected by copyright: educational institutions, artists and graphics professionals, and a wide variety of companies in industries such as communications, design, and advertising.

Citizens. Everyone and anyone interested or concerned about free speech, corporate influence in government, the rights of employees, social values connected to technology, communications, and other elements affected by copyright law.

Here are some terms that relate to past battles fought over copyright, are still being fought, or might be coming soon to a jungle clearing near you. While some controversial proposals for copyright legislation have apparently come and gone, such as orphan works, there’s a chance that they could come back to life in the future; it all depends on circumstance and how much money is at stake. Yes, it does appear that this jungle is inhabited by zombies!

Berne Convention
Copyright Act of 1976
Copyright renewal Act of 1992
WIPO  (World Intellectual Property Organization)
DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act)
Copyright term extension
Orphan Works
DRM (Digital Rights Management)
DMCA takedowns*
SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act)*
Fair Use*
Net Neutrality*
Digital / Internet Piracy*
ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement)*
TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement)*

* Items you should pay particular attention to.


Resources 1. Maximalists

Copyright Alliance
Chilling Report
Center for Copyright Information
Creative America
Copyright Clearance Center
Global Intellectual Property Center
Book: Robert Levine. Free Ride: How Digital Parasites Are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back.

Resources 2. Everyone Else: Hybrids, Minimalists, Citizens.
(You’ll have to decide for yourself who’s who!)

Copyright Society
Ars Technica
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Public Knowledge
Creative Commons
Chilling Effects Clearinghouse
Book: Peter Decherney. Hollywood’s Copyright Wars: From Edison to the Internet.
Book: Jason Mazzone. Copyfraud and Other Abuses of Intellectual Property Law.
Book: William Patry. How to Fix Copyright.
e-book: The Sky is Rising. (Suggests that online profit potential is rising, despite digital piracy fears).
Video online: Bill Moyers & Company. Elections for Sale.
(This episode includes a discussion on how non-profit organizations are distorting the democratic process. Relevant when considering the impact that non-profits are having in the battles over copyright).

Miscellaneous Links.  Research Tools, Technical and Government Resources to help you find stuff.  Look up data on lobbyists and campaign contributions.
Sunlight Foundation  Watchdog on government activities
Sourcewatch  Look up data on political groups and individuals.
WhoLobbiesUs  Data required to be publicly disclosed by lobbyists to U.S. Senate.
PR Watch  Center for Media and Democracy.  Look up information on specific legislation.
IRS Exempt Organization search  Find tax information on specific non-profit organizations.
Columbia University Libraries Copyright Quick Guide.  Good summary of copyright law and best practices.
U.S. Copyright Office  The official scoop on copyright.


(*National officers claimed that this statement is untrue, that the Graphic Artists Guild’s annual $5000 payments for membership in the Copyright Alliance have come from reprographic rights royalty money.  However, while I was a member of the Guild’s International Board of Directors, no document was ever produced that separated usage of dues from reprographic royalty funds.  This includes the official budget proposal documents presented to the International Board of Directors for the Guild’s November 2012 Annual Convention.  See my March 13, 2013 post Reprographic Royalties for some background information.)

Objects in Motion

(NOTE: Originally published Sept. 13, 2012, this post was re-edited for public display, Sept. 20, 2013.  The IAG is no longer my interest group at the NYC chapter of the Graphic Artists Guild, and I am no longer an officer, volunteer, or member of the Graphic Artists Guild.)

After a long summer break, it’s about time to get things going at the IAG again.  I’ll begin by providing a few updates; first, I finally completed a report on the Copyright Alliance that I had started way back in March.  I originally hoped to have it wrapped up long before now, but unfortunately it took me down a much deeper rabbit hole than I had anticipated, on a journey through labor law, right-wing politics, and the sordid business of lobbying in Washington D.C.  I was motivated to write the report while following the progress of SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) that died a well-deserved death this past spring, which the Guild briefly supported after maybe taking its cue from the Copyright Alliance.  (The Graphic Artists Guild is currently an executive member of the Alliance).  My report lays out details showing the Alliance to be a front group for a select clique of corporate interests, that operates out of a Washington D.C. lobbying firm headed by Senator Don Nickles, a staunch conservative from Oklahoma.  The conclusion I reached is that the Graphic Artists Guild should not provide either financial or vocal support to the Alliance, and should terminate its executive membership.  I just recently sent the report to the national officers and board of directors at the Guild, so we’ll probably have to wait a little to see if anything develops. After the Guild leadership has had adequate time to decide on policy I’ll make the report freely available to everyone.

While my Copyright Alliance report originally started off as guild business, it touches on a number of issues that all illustrators should be mindful of, and which should be discussed at the IAG.  I became familiar with a few things while investigating the Alliance: ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement); the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA); the “chilling effect” of DMCA take-down notices; Hollywood accounting; net neutrality; and a few other issues that we should take some time to learn about.

That brings me to my last news item; we will have our next IAG meeting at the Productive on Thursday, September 27, and I will give a presentation on the current political landscape of copyright and related trade issues, and so share with you a bit of knowledge gained by all my Copyright Alliance muckraking.  Since I’m not a lawyer I won’t be making pronouncements about legislative details, but I will be able to provide you with a pretty good summary of who the players on the field are, what they are advocating, and point you to some resources that might help you sort things out for yourself.  The main idea behind my presentation will be to alert you to a few objects in motion in the business world and in Washington D.C. that may not be making huge headlines, but are still worth paying attention to.