Copyright law changes

Tue 15 Feb 2011 by Alan_Baker

pine martin

In response to my agent's [ 'Illustration' - Harry Lyon-smith] message passing on concerns over possible changes to the copyright laws [The Hargreaves review].
People working in the visual arts are having a pretty tough time at the moment.
This proposed change in the copyright law doesn't look good.

About ten years ago the 'Net book agreement' came into force and was a heavy blow for writers, illustrators, small bookshops and publishers.
In essence it allowed books to be sold for cut down prices by book clubs and the large chains.
The large companies now have the power to tell the publishers how much they are prepared to pay for their books [when it comes to negotiating, it's take it or leave it].
For me, as a writer and illustrator it now means that instead of receiving 10% of the retail price [the price marked on the book],
I now received 10% of the publishers receipts - a lot less - because books are being sold at knock down prices.
The effect is that although I might still be selling books in high numbers, I am receiving very little financial return.
So much so that I am no longer able to afford be a children's book writer and illustrator.
Publishing contracts have various merchandising/ digital rights built into them.
This means that as well as benefiting the artist, the various agents, publishers etc on route get a slice of the cake as the money is passed through them.
Painful though it might be to the artist, it keeps the industry rolling.

So, with publishing having been 'spoilt' I have concentrated my efforts more on the other areas in illustration still open to me - advertising, editorial and packaging etc.
Over the years I have managed to hold on to most of my copyrights, often at the expense of taking a lower fee.
In general, it has been a good move.
The reason I chose this route is that the rights are valuable. If they were not valuable, why would people want them?
I am often able to re-sell limited rights on work that has already been used/commissioned for other purposes.
Take this image of a pine martin done in the late 1970s.
It was originally produced for a calendar.
I sold the company that commissioned it, the rights of usage for 12 months.
For that illustration, they got a good deal.
After 12 months the rights then reverted back to me.
Since then, because I own the rights, it has had many incarnations
- various other calendars for this country, also calendars for France, various greetings cards, a children's book [which was then re-worked 10 years later and I re-sold the rights to another publisher].
The illustration is also part of my agents Stock illustration website where people can buy ready made artwork like this at much a lower price than the cost of commissioning new art.
This system allows people who would normally not be able to afford to commission illustrators the ability to do so.
I have over 1000 illustrations on this site.
There are many similar stock illustration/photography sites.
My business has factored in the ability to be able to re-sell my rights.
Because I am able to keep my copyright I am helping other businesses exist, if only by the fact that they are getting the work at a lower price than if they were having to commission new artwork every time.
If I were to have to give away the copyright, I would have to factor this into my fees.
I would price myself out of the market.
Not everything I produce is re-salable [most advertising for example- because the images are too specific to a product]. Agents know this and it is built into the fees.

Look at what has happened to the music industry since the public have been able to breech copyright law by downloading for free.
We cannot allow this to happen in the visual world. It could destroy thousands of livelihoods.
In the UK, Illustration is a huge industry, we don' want t loose it.
As the Americans say "if it ain't broke, don't fix it"

Alan Baker