David (and His Army) versus Goliath: The Creators Federation Takes Aim

The press has not hesitated to cover attempts by large corporations, such as Disney, to extend copyrights seemingly indefinitely. There is another side to the issue, however: the side of the creators themselves. While Walt Disney remains alive in name and handiwork only, creators around the world are involved in a constant struggle to maintain sovereignty over their works. Jonathan Tasini recognized the plight of the creator and has spent years fighting for the rights of the estimated 1.6 million Americans whose livelihood depends on their creativity.

In the 2001 landmark case (Tasini v. The New York Times), the United States Supreme Court upheld a 1993 lower court ruling that The New York Times and others had committed copyright infringement when they resold pieces written by freelancers without consent or further compensation. Tasini has served as the president of the National Writers Union since 1990, where he helped the organization triple in size and to increase its budget seven-fold. Beginning April 1, Tasini's crusade took a different form: he has founded and serves as president and executive director of the Creators Federation, an organization designed to combine and concentrate the power of the numerous but scattered organizations that represent creators.

According to the Creators Federation, their objective is to: "increase the leverage of creators over market forces by developing coordinated campaigns that enhance creators' control over their work, alter laws to better defend creators, and educate individual creators so they can function more effectively in the commercial and non-profit marketplace."

The Federation acts as something of a guild; Tasini identified a group of people with little influence as individuals or small groups and has created a forum whereby they can voice complaints and stand up for themselves as a more powerful united force. The Federation is not billed as an organization for individual creators to join; rather it is self-described as, "an umbrella organization of existing organizations." Although they will assemble resources for individuals, the goal is to have creators join existing organizations who can band together to enact change as a unified force.

"Creators are quite different from other workers," according to the Federation's Mission Statement. "They do not have the inclination to develop a strategic power analysis because, by nature and work structure, they view their economic success, achieved usually by working alone, as a by-product of their personal talent—not as a result of a banding together of similarly-situated people who take advantage of a common strategic understanding of how to exercise power."

Current strategic projects of the Federation include: an Authors Licensing System; Educational programs; a Legal Defense Fund to support cases in defense of creators' rights; a Media Database; affordable Health Insurance and Benefits; and both domestic and international Public Policy Agendas for the passage of anti-trust exemption for freelancers. The Federation is currently funded by The Nathan Cummings Foundation (www.ncf.org) and The Center for the Public Domain (www.centerpd.org), as well as by individual donations.

Tasini and his fellow members see the interests of creators as unquestionably different from those of the corporations who employ them. The Creators Federation is hoping that their combination of legal action, resources, and experience can shape the future of creators' rights and prevent corporations from exploiting the solitary creator.