New Attack on Creators’ Copyrights?

It appears that a current lawsuit between a staff news photographer and his former employer Agence France-Press (AFP) has upped the attack on creators’ ownership of the copyrights to their own work.

A Portugal-based photojournalist, originally a stringer who had become a staff photographer for AFP, is trying to re-possess his copyrights.  According to the article, AFP is claiming, not that he has lost his claim to his work under the circumstances of his employment, but that news photographers are not, and should not be, entitled to copyright at all.

That’s a very odd position for AFP to take,  since there seems to be no reason at all for AFP to do so.  If the photographer was, as the article says, a “staff photographer,” then technically he was an employee of some sort—which means that AFP could legitimately claim that it owned his work as works made for hire—and therefore if, as the news article states that AFP claims, news photography is not entitled to copyright protection, AFP could not-assert copyright protection in the work as much as it wanted to, as the work-for-hire authors of the images in question.  

It looks, however, as though AFP is playing a longer game, swinging an axe at the very root of artists’ initial ownership of their own creative work and claims to copyright protection for it—and, consequently, their independence from reliance on a single patron or employer. 

Typically, the writers of articles on copyright are ill-educated in copyright matters, and their inaccuracies are compounded by their employers’ hostility to the concept of creators owning their work, so it is always a little dicey to take a news article on these subjects at face value—and any such reportage should be met with initial skepticism.

Nonetheless, this article is disturbing.  There have been many assaults on creators’ rights to control their work over recent decades—the “orphan works” agitation, the efforts to expand “fair use” and the introduction of the non-statuory concept of “transformative use” which has polluted the statutory definition of “fair use,” the push for the idea of “commons” which suggests that people who have created nothing should have a right to freely use the work of creators. Big Tech—Google and its allies—have long made its hatred of copyright plain.  AFP merely ups the ante.

Artists who rely on their copyrights for their ongoing livelihood, and who expect to leave the rights to their works to their heirs, should be vigilant regarding the ongoing attacks upon the copyrights which comprise their legacy.

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