This week, the Copyright Alliance and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Innovation and Policy Center hosted a program called A Conversation on Diversity and Inclusion in Copyright. The aim was “to discuss ways to promote and facilitate increased participation from underrepresented communities.” (www.msk.com/newsroom-events-1343.)
The facts about racial and ethnic disparities in copyright registration ownership are hard to come by. Findings in a George Washington University Faculty Research Paper, however, are a bit surprising. Black authors and creators, it seems, are actually over-represented here. Apparently, it is authors of Hispanic origin who are under-represented.
Regardless of the reason for the meeting, it is good to see that it is bringing attention to the long-standing economic unfairness of the U.S. system .To give you an idea of what the problem is, think about this: The registration fee for a single work is $125 ($65 or $45 if you file online). A lucky few score jobs as technical writers or creators of other kinds of content. Their copyrights are almost always owned by their employers as “works made for hire.” This can shift responsibility for fees to the employer. The down side of “work for hire” is that the real artists and authors lose ownership of their creative works.
For freelance writers and creators, the going rate for article writers is $0 to $20 per article. Meanwhile, due to the proliferation of free music on the Internet, the average songwriter can expect to make $0 or less per song. Only a tiny percentage of songwriters make enough money to cover the cost of registering a copyright in a song. As for painters, well, there’s a reason “starving artist” is such a familiar expression. Group registration is sometimes possible, and when it is, some money can be saved that way. In many cases, however, this option is not available.
The United States and most other countries, by treaty, do not require a work to be registered in order to get copyright protection. A copyright arises as soon as a creative work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. That’s great, but owning a copyright won’t do you much good if you need a registration certificate to enforce it. As I said in an Illinois Law Review article, the United States should eliminate its pre-litigation registration requirement.
Maybe the diversity, equity and inclusion movement will finally bring Congress around to doing something.