Another Inscrutable Attack on Copyright by CCIA 

In a blog post last week for Project DiSCO (of the CCIA), Jonathan Band uses less-than-subtle sleight of hand to conflate the potential business implications of new photographic technology with photographers’ interests in copyright enforcement.  Citing a Washington Post article by Geoffrey Fowler, which proposes that ever-improving, AI-enhanced photographic tools built into smart phones are “democratizing” the opportunity for anyone to make “beautiful” photographs, Band notes that these technological advancements threaten the livelihoods of at least some segment of professional photographers.  

“Now, someone with a decent eye and a Pixel 3 can take photographs that are good enough for many events. The default aesthetics of Night Sight [a new technology] will satisfy many, if not most, potential customers,” Band writes.  And this may be true up to a point.  Off-the-shelf, push-button technical “perfection” in the hands of everyone can threaten the market value of many types of professional photographers.  

Of course that premise opens up a multi-faceted discussion about the myriad skills necessary to be a great portraitist, photojournalist, fine-art photographer, and so on.  And while that particular conversation may be very engaging, it has almost nothing to do with any particular photographer’s interest in her copyrights, and it has even less to do with the target of Band’s criticism—the copyright small-claim proposal called the CASE Act. 

“In response to this changing technological landscape, many of the organizations representing photographers have focused their energies on reforming copyright,” Band writes.  But this is a disingenuous segue because CASE is not remotely a response to changes in photographic capture technology.  The right or ability to protect an image is agnostic with regard to how the image is made.  Period.  Moreover, the premise of the CASE Act (i.e. enforcing a copyright claim for less than the cost of federal litigation) actually predates digital technology, although widespread infringement of works online does emphasize the urgent need for a small-claim remedy.

As described in this post about the House Judiciary hearings on CASE in September, one of the major complaints among independent creators is that commercial entities use their works for online marketing etc. without license.  If CASE passes, we can probably expect to see rights holders most often avail themselves of the small claim tribunal for these types of claims; and it is frankly impossible to fathom why anybody who cares about basic fairness in the market would have a problem with that.  Least of all the corporate behemoths represented by CCIA.  

Moreover, while it is true that advocacy of CASE has emphasized the plight of photographers—because theirs are the works most often infringed on the web—we should remind the CCIA and its readers that the bill proposes a small-claim option for all copyrightable works.  So, at best, Band’s focus on the latest advancements in cellphone photography have nothing to do with, say, musicians or graphic artists whose works are infringed in cases ideally suited to a small claim. 

Band’s post is, of course, a variation on a tired theme; and in that regard, I feel confident about telling the folks at CCIA (and the Internet Association also opposed to CASE) that authors of all stripes are sick to death of the following words of wisdom

“The energy of associations representing photographers would be better directed toward helping photographers develop business models and skills that would allow them to thrive in the digital environment, rather than lobbying Congress to make changes to copyright law of questionable utility.”

Perhaps the energy of associations representing THE BIGGEST TECH CORPORATIONS ON EARTH would be better directed at playing Beer Pong than smugly telling professional creators time and again how little they they understand their own crafts and business interests.  Maybe CCIA can adapt to that new model.

 Photo source by meatbull

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