There’s been an awful lot of Tweeting and anger on social media channels this last 24 hours about the UK Government’s Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill. Porsche specialist and writer Phil Raby contacted me to ask what the fuss was about, as like many, he had no idea that this bill was planned. And unless you’re an eagle eyed photographer, why should you? Sop, as Phil asked, here’s a (hopefully) sensible summary of the situation as it stands on 29th April 2013.
Despite wide opposition from the photographic industry, the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill has received royal assent on 26 April, enabling the government to introduce, through regulations, controversial copyright reforms. The bill, which became an act of law last week, was sponsored by Vince Cable and Lord Marland of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The bill was originally written to eradicate unnecessary bureaucracy but presented a series of provisions, introduced through the back door by the Intellectual Property Office, to allow the use of Orphan Works such as images that lack metadata and whose copyright owners cannot be found.
While the initial idea, put forth by members of the academic profession to find a way to use very old archive images sitting in museum collections, was created with good intention, no thought was really given to the commercial aspects. The bill sweeps away many of the obstacles that commercial organisations have previously had to just taking photographs, digital or analogue, and simply using them. A previous attempt, just before the last general election, was voted down. However, a change of government in the UK seems to have been all that was required.
“The invention of photography and its mass adoption by the population created a new kind of potential value, but being analogue it was too expensive for corporations to exploit en masse the many millions of photographs they made,” comments Paul Ellis of the Stop43 campaign group. “Digital changed all that. Intellectual Property is the oil of the 20th century, and the almost cost-free duplication and dissemination of digital files has resulted in a huge stream of images. The trouble is, it was illegal to exploit them without their owners’ permission. That’s no longer the case.”
Those people hardest hit will be individual photographers, the people whose work is often used in magazines, books and TV programmes. The key reason why is due to the definition of an ‘Orphan Work” and what is required under the new legislation of making a ‘due diligent’ search.
No real definition is given to what is considered to be a ‘reasonable’ effort to find a creator. An Orphan Work is any image that it can be possibly claimed as not carrying any ownership date or identity. So those images you upload to Facebook and Twitter that have the EXIF data stripped are all, technically, orphans.
Additionally, given the global nature of the internet, I’m unable to find a credible source of information on the impact outside of the UK. For example, USA based photographers often register their work at the US Copyright Office. This gives them access to punitive damages. What would be the impact, should a USA based photographer discover a UK infringer and bring court action in the US courts?
If you don’t earn a living from your images, you’re possibly thinking, “What’s the big deal?” Well apart from ignoring a very significant body of opinion from many sources, it means that those pictures you on Facebook of the kids playing on the beach could just end up in an advertisement somewhere, whether you like it or not.
Below are several links to sources of more information and opinions that will hopefully give you more information on this issue.
Edmond Terakopian’s Blog:
The Stop 43 Campaign.
Update 2nd May. Here’s a link to someone who thinks the whole thing is blown out of proportion and actually, photographers and others are just lying about everything. You may wish to comment.
We’ll add more information as it’s reported, but if you have an opinion, please add it below.