The Hague Convention: A Good Thing… Yes? No? Maybe…

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

What if you successfully sue someone for infringing your copyrights in the U.S. and he/she just decides to move to another country and set up shop there?  Well, that is just the sort of question the Hague Convention on Private International Law was established to consider.What if you successfully sue someone for infringing your copyrights in the U.S. and he/she just decides to move to another country and set up shop there?  Well, that is just the sort of question the Hague Convention on Private International Law was established to consider.

The Hague Convention on Private International Law is an inter-governmental organization established in 1992, the purpose of which is “to work for the progressive unification of the rules of private international law.”  That is, they are trying to establish uniform rules for the enforcement of legal judgments across international boundaries.  This would allow you, as a songwriter, to win a copyright infringement case in the United States and be able to enforce it in all the countries that are signatories of the Hague Convention (there are currently 53 signatories).  This is a good thing, but while all songwriters might agree that the ability to stop pirates and infringers wherever they reside is a good thing, not everyone is so thrilled at the idea that the laws of a foreign country might supersede the laws of the United States.  Would the copyright laws of Morocco or Yugoslavia apply to every other signatory country?  Could you be sued in Germany for violating a copyright law that you’ve never even heard of?  That is precisely what the Hague Convention is trying to determine.  Certainly copyright holders want to be able to collect all the monies due in whatever country they are generated.  But we also want to ensure that we don’t lose hard-won rights to the idea of uniform enforcement.

Consumer rights groups are already lining up to challenge any deterioration of the fair use standards that apply in the U.S. but not in many other foreign countries.  They don’t want to be hauled into court in Europe for making tape copies for personal use that are perfectly legal in the U.S.  Free speech advocates fear that websites will begin to self-censor themselves in order to avoid lawsuits in countries that repress some forms of expression.  There are doubts as to whether free speech is really a good thing in this case.

Perhaps as songwriters we should be happy to see the often-abused fair use laws curtailed a little.  Remember those personal piracy dual cassette machines that were all the rage in the eighties?  Plus, where does fair use end?  Note the recent Napster claim that unlimited file sharing is just an extension of fair use.  And while we always favor free speech in principle, how would you feel if a pornographic parody was made of your song without permission and then illegally distributed around the world?  You would want the scoundrels brought to justice.  Then you would need a body of rules like the Hague Convention to determine how and where you could sue.

Aye, there’s the rub.  How can we uniformly enforce laws that are anything but uniform across so many international boundaries?  For that we need “the progressive unification of the rules of private international law” that the Hague convention is trying to establish.  As copyright holders, we support this effort.  But as citizens of the U.S. we want we are also against any attempt to repress our cherished freedom of expression, or to erode our copyright laws.  We each, as songwriters, need to make sure that our voices are heard in the coming debate over the future course of the Hague Convention.  Be sure that you find out what your senators and representatives have to say on this issue, and follow the latest news on the net and most importantly, join and become involved in a songwriter rights organization like the Songwriters’ Guild of America.  Then, when anyone asks you if you support the Hague Convention, you will be able to give them a cautious, but well-informed, “Maybe.”


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