(NOTE: Originally published June 12, 2013, 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.)
It’s obvious that most Guild members are far more concerned about those things that provide a direct benefit to their careers, such as creative and business skills training, than about a lot of stuff that falls under the broad heading of “advocacy.” It’s entirely understandable; putting out better promotions brings in more work; enlarging skill sets lands better jobs; sharpening business practices really, really matters to your bottom line. What’s happening in the Copyright law, Trade negotiation, and Tax Policy Jungles of Washington, D.C. is both extraordinarily complex and of indirect and uncertain consequence to your daily survival as a creative professional. Who the heck can spare the time to make sense of it? Particularly time that’s already stretched thin just trying to keep up on all the stuff having a direct impact?
Whether or not it matters all depends on what you think the Guild’s mission should be. If you think the Guild should be your voice and advocate, dealing with what’s happening in the jungle so that you can concentrate on your daily critical tasks, then it does matter.
That brings us to current news and events involving the Copyright Alliance, an organization that the Guild supports both financially and by tacit endorsement as a member of the Alliance. If you can find a few minutes, please read about what the lobbyists for the Copyright Alliance (a.k.a., the Nickles Group, LLC) have been up to.
As the company moves to Internet-based telephone service, it’s looking to shed regulatory obligations that benefit low-income Americans.
Leticia Miranda, June 10, 2013. The Nation Magazine.
“Since 2010, AT&T has been waging a deregulation campaign in several states across the country while aiming to move its traditional, wired telephone services to Internet Protocol (IP)-based services, which transmit voice communications digitally. With the help of corporate “bill mill” the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and support from companies like AT&T, state legislators have introduced a series of “model” bills aimed at preventing regulation of IP-based services in more than thirty states across the country, from Idaho to Georgia, Texas to New Hampshire.”
How are the regulatory changes that AT&T seeks bad for professional creators? It takes sorting out and understanding a good-sized chunk of the economics and the history of telecommunications regulations. (Sure, like you have a whole lot of time to dedicate to that.) Essentially what’s happening is that AT&T and the other major players in the communications game are questing for that ultimate goal in our not-quite free market system; the one really big principle that you were never taught in Economics 101, and that’s never, ever uttered by the serious people in discussions about economics: Providing the Least Amount of Goods and Services, While Charging the Most Possible.
As creators of content, our interests are served by having a broad and vibrant market in which to sell our products and services. Unfortunately, the major telecom corporations are whittling away at regulations that preserve competition and keep costs under control, harming our base of potential clients and customers. The terms we’ll need to agree to and the rates we’ll receive for our services are going to suffer in a market controlled by only a handful of corporations, who are working hard at maximizing their profits at the expense of service. This is the reason SOPA was such a bad deal for creators; it would have placed legal weapons into the hands of the largest telecoms, enabling them to suppress their competition. Reducing or eliminating net neutrality policies would likewise suppress competition, cut down on the number of our potential clients, and raise costs for the mere transmission of content. Dollars wasted on excessive transmission and access fees to phone and internet service are dollars not going to content creators. Powerful telecoms using their lobbying muscle to rake in bigger profits while being allowed to provide service of lesser quality is not in our interest.
The Nation article points to one element of AT&T’s strategy, which is to shut out many consumers that are in rural or poor regions that are harder to provide service to, and are therefore less profitable. From our standpoint, though, these are potential content consumers that are left out of the marketplace. If you find the AT&T article too indirect and tiresome, however, or you need more background first, I highly recommend that you view the video available online of Bill Moyers’ interview of Susan Crawford, to get a clearer view of what’s going on.
Moyers&Company. February 8, 2013.
The lobbyists that represent the Copyright Alliance, who are supposedly looking out for the interests of “creative individuals,” are all from the Nickles Group LLC with only one small exception. Simultaneously while representing the Alliance, the Nickles people are also representing: AT&T, COMCAST, and the MPAA, Motion Picture Association of America. Yup, the same interests that are frequently doing bad things to the marketplace you depend upon.
(NOTE: Originally published March 13, 2013, 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’re the insatiably curious type and actually took time to browse through the Guild’s 2011 LM-2 financial report to the Department of Labor, you might have been puzzled to learn that most of the Guild’s revenue did not actually come from member dues. Not by a long shot; far and away the largest chunk of change the Guild received in 2011 is listed on page 4 of the report as simply “Other Receipts”:
So what the heck is that $593,275 all about? The “14” circled in red refers to Schedule 14:
Schedule 14 reveals that the real golden egg in the Guild’s fiscal basket is the $541,788 in Reprographic Royalties paid by the Authors Coalition of America (ACA). Guild members who’ve been around a while probably have heard of them, but newer members are likely to be completely in the dark. In my time at the Guild, there’s been very little open discussion about them; so to remedy this, here’s a very brief summary, which I’ll follow with links to more detailed articles that will give you a better picture of this very crucial part of the Guild’s finances.
Reprographic Rights- The Basics
Many countries have Reproduction Rights Organizations (RROs) that are given authority by their nation’s copyright laws to issue licenses and collect fees for the photocopying of copyrighted materials. RROs collect money in two ways; from “title-specific” fees, generated when copyright owners are identified and can be reimbursed directly for the copying of their works; and from “non-title-specific” fees charged for copying without recording who the individual owners are. This can happen where laws allow for the issuing of blanket licenses to institutions such as universities that want to photocopy large volumes of works without having to track each and every copyright owner. RROs collect and then redistribute non-title-specific funds to organizations that serve creative communities, so that artists and authors can at least benefit in some general way from the copying of protected works. These are the “reprographic royalties” that the Guild has been receiving.
There are many RROs around the world organized through the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations (IFRRO). Since copyright law varies from country to country, the collection and redistribution of money is complex; for the most part it’s done through bilateral agreements between RROs of different nations, based on IFRRO guidelines.
In the United States, we do not have an RRO established by the federal government; however, IFRRO has designated the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC), a nonprofit corporation, to receive funds from other countries and redistribute the money to organizations that support creators in America. The CCC gives a portion to the Authors Coalition of America, of which the Graphic Artists Guild is a member.
An article written by past Guild president Jonathan Combs is archived on the Guild’s website (no longer available) and gives a reasonable explanation of IFRRO, RROs, and reprographic rights money:
Foreign Reprographic Royalties: What They Are and Why They’re Important
by Jonathan Combs, Guild National President, 1998-2000
Note however, that in the article there’s mention of contractual limitations on the use of this money, making the situation a bit more complicated. In addition, the following quote speaks to our current managerial issues at the Guild:
“Several important principles guide RROs in their work. One is the concept of transparency — to be as open about business dealings as possible. Rights-holders should have access to budgets, surveys, and other business practices to avoid mismanagement or misuse of RRO funds. Another is accountability. In addition to being represented on RRO boards, rights-holder organizations should be accountable to their members through elective and democratic processes.”
Given the lack of financial information that’s been provided to both the international board of directors and the membership, it’s hard for me to reach the conclusion that the Guild has been living up to these principles, and to have much confidence that we’ve been meeting the contract terms for usage of reprographic royalties.
For additional information, and some very stark and unflattering viewpoints on the Guild’s usage of reprographic royalties, here are a few links of interest. The articles about the defamation lawsuit that the Guild brought against the IPA and Brad Holland have everything to do with how the Guild does or doesn’t use the royalty money, not to mention that the lawsuit is in its own right another very important subject that hasn’t been discussed much at the Guild.
Animation World Network, August 24, 2010
Mind Your Business: Who is Keeping Your Royalties?
Mark Simon is as mad as hell about reprographic royalties.
Print Magazine / Imprint website
Illustration and the Law
Steven Heller, May 10, 2011
Interview with Brad Holland
Graphic Artists Guild Notice of Appeal (pdf)
April 28, 2011
Association of Medical Illustrators / Press Release:
Graphic Artists Guild Lawsuit Dismissed
Access Court Documents / Defamation Lawsuit.
eCourts / main page
(follow ‘WebCivil Supreme’ link; log in, then search for case index number 109149/2008)
Let me wrap up by emphasizing one more time that if the Graphic Artists Guild is ever going to be a responsible advocate for artists and designers, and a good steward of the resources it’s entrusted with, there’s going to have to be a lot more sunlight around here, with many more members taking an interest in the governance of the Guild.