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Mind Your Business: Who is Keeping Your Royalties?

Mark Simon is as mad as hell about reprographic royalties.

Mark Simon, courtesy of Simon.

When someone pays for my art or to make copies of my art, I have this weird attitude that I actually want to get the money. When I find out that someone receives my money and I don't get any of it, it pisses me off!

It should piss you off, too!

Did you know that companies and institutions here in the U.S. and in foreign countries around the world pay royalties for photocopies they make of pages and images in books and written and visual materials? Did you know that companies here in the US collect those royalties on your behalf? Did you know these sums run into the millions of dollars?

Have you gotten your check? No, as an illustrator, most likely you haven't.

These royalty payments for making copies of our work are called reprographic royalties.

Reprographic royalties are collective fees owed to authors, illustrators and photographers (but not always paid) for the licensed photocopying of published work used in compilations such as books, journals, blogs, newspapers, e-books and such. Colleges, institutions and businesses photocopy great masses of printed matter.

To protect themselves from possible lawsuits for copyright infringement from authors and publishers, these users pay a fee to a copyright collecting society, also known as a Reprographic Rights Organization (RRO).  

In theory, these collecting societies should return shares of these collective fees to the rights holders, whether they are authors, illustrators, publishers or photographers, just like jukebox money is returned to songwriters, composers and music publishers.

In music, collecting societies are well known. ASCAP and BMI collect and distribute money for and to songwriters and composers.

While fine artists have the Artists Rights Society (ARS, which does distribute royalties, http://www.arsny.com ), illustrators have no collecting and distributing society that I am aware of.

This means that all the reprographic royalties and other collective fees are either being held in escrow or are being paid to various societies and publishers and the royalties never make it to us, the illustrators, who produced and hopefully own the rights to our own work, which has been published in various formats.

Let's follow the money trail. Institutions and businesses pay a reprographic royalty to a collecting society, a Reprographic Rights Organization or RRO. The RRO then makes royalty payments to authors or publishers. Publishers should then make payments to the authors and illustrators whose copyright protected work was photocopied.

According to the Authors Coalition of America's website, the American RRO, which is collecting reprographic royalties, is the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) (www.Copyright.com). The CCC website states, "The CCC was created in 1978 by a group of authors and publishers."

Some of my books (Storyboards: Motion In Art, 2nd & 3rd Edition, Producing Independent 2D Character Animation, Facial Expressions) are with large publishers and I have found them listed on the CCC website. (Finding your illustrations on any database is not so easy…yet.)

There are a few ways institutions can pay the CCC for permission to photocopy elements of my books for various uses.

One, there is a pay-per-use option where a specific title is searched for and photocopy rights may be purchased for that title. When I searched on the CCC website for my book Facial Expressions, I found that copying my book for use in a classroom costs $0.177 per page. My book Producing Independent 2D Character Animation would cost $0.25 per page to copy.

The second way businesses and institutions can pay for photocopy permission is to buy a blanket license to photocopy represented content. The CCC calls theirs an Annual Copyright License. Their website states, "One license, usage rights to millions of content sources." Their site also states, "CCC's Annual License covers nearly a million titles."

This reads to me that a business which purchases an annual copyright license from the CCC has permission to make photocopies of many, but not necessarily all, of the materials and content the CCC represents. Blanket license fee is a standard industry term used by collecting societies that, to me, means the same thing as CCC's Annual Copyright License, but should include any licensing agreement with any company that covers all of that company's/institutions content sources. From the General Papers of IFRRO , see #5, Concluding Remarks: "Collective administration organizations normally operate with uniform tariffs and conditions (blanket licensing)."

I'm sure the CCC makes payments to the publishers based on pay-per-use purchases of the publishers materials (One of my publishers confirmed that they do) and I'm want to assume they have some way of determining payment amounts to publishers and authors based on the collected Annual Copyright License fees, but I have not been able to confirm that.

So what happens then?

As an author, I should see my share of any blanket license fee paid to my publishers on the royalty statements provided by my publishers. As a published illustrator, I think I should also receive royalties from my portion of pay-per-use licenses where my copyright protected illustrations were featured and from overall blanket licenses. And so should you.

Illustrators, unlike authors, do not usually have an option of making a simple phone call to their publishers' royalty department. You could talk to your editors and publishers, but they will most likely just blow you off.

Working alone, you would likely have to file a major lawsuit and you still wouldn't be able to collect those royalties without a collecting society.

This means we need to form a collecting society mandated/authorized by a majority of the rights holder class to begin to clear our rights and thereby receive earned royalties.

As an illustrator, my art has been in many books, blogs, magazines and newspapers, and I've never seen a dime in reprographic royalties. That's because there's no group I know of in the U.S. set up to collect and deliver payments to illustrators.

But there is a way for you to receive reprographic royalties in cash for your published illustrations.

The ASIP (American Society of Illustrators Partnership) is a coalition of 12 illustrator organizations and independent illustrators formed in 2007 to bring accountability to the reprographic rights of the American graphic artist.

The ASIP is a non-profit organization, legally chartered to act as a collecting society for you, the published illustrator.

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Other countries around the world value the creations of artists and writers much more than the U.S. In a statement released to the American Society of Illustrators Partnership (more about the ASIP below), Norwegian medical illustrator Kari Toverud explains how her career has been enhanced by reprographic royalties. "I joined GRAFILL, the Norwegian association for Visual Communication, which receives money from KOPINOR, the reprographic rights organization of Norway. In 2009 KOPINOR distributed NOK 157 million (US $26 million) to Norwegian rights holders and 42 million (US $6.8 million) to foreign rights holders."

She continues: "I have received three travel stipends from GRAFILL for…approx. $10,000. I have also received a travel stipend from the Norwegian Illustrators Society for $5,800. I would highly recommend that artists allow ASIP to represent them as U.S. rights holders so they can gain access to the money that is rightfully theirs."

I found out through the ASIP that since 1980, KOPINOR in Norway has collected more than NOK 3.5 billion (US $570 million) in reprographic fees. I can only account for slightly more than $1 billion (US) collected domestically. That's right. Norway, which only has 4.7 million people (about the size of Houston) collects more than half as much for artists and authors as the U.S. does, even though Norway's population is 1/74 of the U.S.

In addition to the money collected through blanket licenses, some reprographic royalties can be traced to specific artists. These are called title-specific royalties and in some cases, it means that there are checks with artists' names waiting for them overseas.

Lynn Reznick, licensing manager for syndicated cartoonist Mark Parisi, learned about reprographic royalties through her association with ASIP. In a recent letter to the ASIP board, she wrote, "In June of 2009, we were contacted by the Copyright Agency Limited (CAL, an Australian rights company) regarding potential copyright payments that were allocated to Mark...We registered with CAL and now are paid directly to our bank account." She adds that to date they have received a total of $4,687.16.

Other countries pay illustrators for photocopying their work, and I'm tired of it! I joined the ASIP because I want my royalties!

Heard enough? Are you tired of other people keeping your money? Then do something about it!

Join the ASIP at www.asip-repro.org/join.html.

What's the catch? Not much. There's no cost to join but there is a HUGE cost if you don't.

The ASIP will be funded by taking an administrative fee from royalties it collects for you, so there is no cash out of your pocket. It is also run by illustrators: very smart illustrators. Many of these people are responsible for defeating the Orphan Works bill, so you know they are on your side.

Will you get huge checks after you join? No, probably not. First we need to prove to the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations (IFRRO) that we should be recognized as one voice of illustrators. Then royalties should start to flow to the ASIP and then to the people who deserve it instead of large organizations and publishers who get rich off of our talent.

According to the WIPO National Seminar on Copyright, Related Rights, and Collective Management, organized by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the IFRRO links together all the RROs as well as national and international associations of rights holders. "To collect fees, the RROs enter into bilateral agreements with each other."

But is there a lot of money out there just waiting for us to eventually receive? Hell, yes!

The CCC's website states, "In the last 15 years, we've distributed more than $1 billion in royalties to the rights holders we represent." Their site also states, "Today, we represent tens of thousands of authors, publishers and creators from nearly every country in the world…" That means they've paid royalties to authors, publishers and creators.

The folks at ASIP directed me an official IFRRO publication online, The Art of Copying. According to this booklet, reprographic royalties due to visual artists (illustrators and photographers) average 15% of total reprographic revenues. (See the footnote on page 18.)

According to IFRRO's booklet, The Art of Copying, "Research shows that copying of visual material increases significantly when it can be done digitally. Digital copying offers the user a much better quality copy and provides numerous options for manipulation and storing the copy. These advantages pose opportunities as well as obvious risks for creators of visual material."

However, that percentage looks to be rising drastically as the booklet states, "Several organizations reported a significant increase in copying visual material when scanning and other forms of digital copying are permitted which increased the share of revenues allocated to visual material."

If this 15% estimate is accurate, more than $150 million of the money the CCC distributed to publishers, authors and creators should have eventually made it to U.S. visual artists. (Call your publisher or editor and find out what happened to your money.) What could we do with $150 million?

Not only would that be a lot of money for us as individuals, it would also raise a lot of money for the ASIP to fight for artists rights.

By raising the issue of reprographic fairness for illustrators, cartoonists and others, ASIP has already begun to shake up the status quo. According to Brad Holland, some foreign collecting societies have begun inquiries to determine what is happening to the money they've already returned to other organizations in the U.S. At least two countries have now stopped making payments to those groups. They are saving the royalties in escrow waiting for a group like ASIP to acquire a mandate from American illustrators.

Let's give it to them!

Mark Simon is an award-winning animation director/producer. His animation is online at www.FunnyToons.tv. He is also the co-founder of www.SellYourTvConceptNow.com. He has pitched and landed over 25 deals for his own projects. He is currently turning the hit comic strips B.C. and Wizard of Id into animated properties.

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