Book review: Copy This Book – An Artist’s Guide to Copyright

Readers will recall [Merpel says, "Or may learn for the first time"] that the IPKat was launched as a teaching aid to share accessible and updated information about intellectual property law. In many regards, author Eric Schrijver seems to have been driven by the same motivation with Copy this book – An Artist’s Guide to Copyright, as the book brings the basics of copyright law to artists.

The book counts six short chapters and covers all key topics of copyright, ranging from ‘what is copyright’, ‘how to secure copyright protection’ to ‘how to clear others’ rights and exploit your own’. The objective is to describe in simple language somewhat complex legal concepts, keeping an eye on what is relevant in practice. In this regard, it is a ‘mission accomplished’.

A welcome feature of the book is that the author devotes much attention to the public domain, what it means to artists and what it looks like in practice for artists. In this discussion, Schrijver references various initiatives that have advocated for  maintaining  a healthy (i.e. rich and plentiful content-wise) public domain such as Creative Commons or Covering this aspect of the copyright certainly contributes to the book being both balanced and nuanced in its presentation of copyright law.

The author frames the book as relevant to French, German and Belgian law, as well as to other EU countries where harmonisation has taken place. All three focus jurisdictions can be described as influenced by a continental approach to copyright, best described as ‘authors’ rights’. Copyright under the common law tradition is presented only to the extent that the author points to where American law contrasts with the EU position.

Copy this cat ?
Having said that, several issues seem to have gotten lost in the process of summarising the law and further clarification in this respect would have been helpful. For example, in introducing the question of contracts and copyright, the author writes: “technically speaking, you do not need a license document to grant or get permission. Legally, even an oral message counts. Or a simple email.” (p 57)

Although this is true of UK law, this statement is not accurate under French law. The French Intellectual Property Code requires that right-transferring contracts (even free ones) be recorded in writing to be binding. An oral message would not be effective. Moreover, the Code requires that such agreements list the type of rights being transferred and the scope of such transfer, both for assignments and licenses. French law also requires that the contract expressly mention the remuneration corresponding to each right being transferred individually in order  to prevent blanket and forms of  all-encompassing transfers of copyright (see here, here and here for previous posts on this). 

Schrijver explains that copyright protection arises automatically (upon creation), without having to register your work or adding “any legally-worded message” (p. 30). While overall this is true, it is not entirely the case under UK law.  There, the right to be attributed as the author [admittedly a moral right, not ‘copyright’ strictly speaking] needs to be ‘asserted’ by the artist wishing to enjoy the right. This can be done by displaying a notice on the work, adding a clause in a contract or providing a mention on the artist’s official website to that effect (see section 78 of the Copyright, Designs, Patents Act 1988). It is however questionable whether this aspect of UK law is compliant with the Berne Convention [Article 5 of the convention bans formalities for the enjoyment of copyright protection]. This aspect of UK copyright has not yet been challenged in court.

Finally, the book does not consider equitable remuneration rights. Whilst the author can hardly be blamed for side-stepping this part of copyright, as it usually makes for a dry and technical read, it is a topic that tends to be little known by the professionals (notably musicians), for whom these rights have been introduced. For that reason alone, it would have warranted attention.

Overall, this book is an excellent introduction to copyright law, punctuated by references to real-life cases, artworks or artists, making it an easy and enjoyable read. Importantly, Schrijver keeps the tone practical, which is essential considering the target readership. This book may also be useful to students in the arts, humanities or social sciences, who would like to get their arms around copyright-clearance for their own academic or professional projects.

This book will be less relevant to specialists in copyright, or intellectual property lawyers in general -- U.N.L.E.S.S. you are looking for a simple, concise and well-written guide on copyright for colleagues, clients or friends.

Book reviewed: Eric Schrijver, Copy This Book – An Artist’s Guide to Copyright’ (2019) Type: softcover, Dimensions: 195 x 140 MM / 7.7 x 5.5 inches, Pages: 192, ISBN: 978-94-91677-93-9, Editor: Loraine Furter, Eric Schrijver, Legal Editor : Julien Cabay, Author: Eric Schrijver, Graphic: Loraine Furter, Eric Schrijver, Publisher: Onomatopee 165. Price: 17,00 EUR, here.

Book review: Copy This Book – An Artist’s Guide to Copyright Book review: Copy This Book – An Artist’s Guide to Copyright Reviewed by Mathilde Pavis on Thursday, June 13, 2019 Rating: 5

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