Role of Reproduction Rights Organizations (RROs)

by Stephanie Faulkner, Acting Secretary General, IFRRO

Invited Guest Writer, Exclusive to Illustrators’ Partnership of America

Some years ago, it was estimated that approximately 300 billion photocopies of copyright material were made annually worldwide. The vast majority of these copies were thought to be made illegally in that the consent of the relevant copyright owners or their collecting society was not obtained and no excuse was afforded by legal presumptions and exceptions such as “fair use”.

This estimate of numbers of copies made annually has undoubtedly been put in the shade over more recent times as a result of technical improvements in the speed and quality of photocopying machines and by the number of copies now made using other means of copying, such as by scanners, printers, writable CD-ROMs and other digital mediums for storing data. The soaring use of paper worldwide is closely related to the quality and ease with which large scale copying can now be done.

It is harmful to any society, however, to turn a blind eye to the unlawful (and unremunerated) copying of copyright literary and artistic works. Such copying diminishes the financial incentives that would encourage further literary and artistic endeavor by those persons most capable of producing works of importance. This is because unlawful copying more particularly occurs in relation to educational, scientific and non-fictional works. The failure to protect literary and artistic works from unlawful copying is ultimately illogical and self-destructive to the fabric of any society genuinely interested in promoting the economic and social welfare of its people.

Reprographic Rights Organizations

Reprographic rights organizations (RROs) have been established in the United States of America, virtually all European countries and elsewhere throughout the world over the last 20 years or more to ensure that economic incentives for the usage of copyright works are enjoyed by those whom the international conventions on copyright intend to benefit: individual creators of literary and artistic works and their publishers. RROs facilitate ease of access by users by providing a simple means for users to obtain permission to use copyright works. RROs in the IFRRO community are owned and controlled by authors and publishers and have been set up to manage photocopying rights to ensure that an administratively simple and affordable means exists to administer the reprographic rights in printed material.

Collective administration by RROs makes economic and practical sense when mass methods of reproduction and communication are used widely by users domestically and abroad. In such circumstances, individual administration is often impossible, inefficient or impractical. Collective administration is most useful when there is a need to reproduce small portions of works for internal use for multiple rightsholders using standardized licensing and distribution policies and procedures. In these circumstances, RROs enable transaction costs to be reduced to a manageable level. They reduce the need for individual rightsholders to enter into multiple negotiations for licenses with users domestically and in foreign territories in which RROs are also established and also reduce the need for the monitoring of compliance with license terms and infringements of copyright. The public interest is also served by RROs, who ensure that educational and scientific material is made readily available for educational and research purposes at a reasonable price. In performing these functions, RROs ensure that the wider social and cultural benefits of copyright are realized for the general public good.

RROs generally administer photocopying rights, however, many RROs are now also moving to administer digital rights at the request of rightsholders and users because of the advantages that collective administration affords. Photocopying licenses must provide users with reasonable access to works but must not substitute for entire works of published copyright material in books and periodical form. This is because scholarly publishing continues to be the “engine” of the print publishing industry, frequently accounting for between 28% and 37% of all production of books in major markets for the sale of books. A blanket license granted by an RRO would typically allow photocopying for internal, non-commercial use only of a portion of a publication (e.g., 15 % or a maximum of 25 pages from a book still on sale). Electronic usages of copyright material, however, can relate to the usage of entire works in certain circumstances (such as on an office intranet).

The key to success of any RRO is that it should have a comprehensive repertoire and that it should have the confidence of rightsholders and users. Greater emphasis is being placed in recent times on the need for collecting societies to operate efficiently and transparently, particularly with respect to rightsholders. IFRRO and its members are working on developing a Code of Best Practice to ensure that RROs operate to the highest standards and in accordance with the “world’s best practice”.

November 2001