Cameron reveals “I am the walrus goo goo goo Google.”

This article had been destined to talk about the appointment of Andrew Parsons as official Downing Street Photographer. A subject upon which indignant middle-Englanders could really grind their teeth, a favourite past-time for Daily Mail readers.

However, my plans changed when I read the BBC article about David Cameron’s intended review of UK copyright laws. Might this be my chance to grind my own teeth about something? Again?

stop 43 campaign logo modified

ALL photographers need to work together for fairer copyright laws.

It’s taken a while for the review to be announced because, to put it mildly, the government has been rather busy with other things. However, it was a pledge of the Tories in the wake of the passing of the Digital Economy Bill (passed in the fag end of the Labour government) to re-visit the issue of copyright because part of that bill, the Orphan Works clause, got ditched as a result of coordinated, intelligent campaigning by photographers and specifically the Stop43 group. This time, the remit for unauthorised use might not even be limited to orphan works.

So here we jolly well are then, another six-month review of copyright (there have been one or two previous reviews, largely ignored) and this time David’s stated aim is to make UK copyright law “fit for the internet age.” A slightly worrying statement given that in his announcement he refers to a claim by the founders of Google that businesses such as theirs would never have launched in the UK because apparently our copyright laws are tighter than those in the US.

In the main, our copyright laws aren’t much tighter than those of the US, not that Google ever took much notice of the boundaries of US copyright law either . It’s fair to say that Google would love to be able to move through the internet like some content-consuming blue whale, monstrous mouth agape and everything in its path swallowed up whole and ready for commercial exploitation. Whale poo for sale, made from other people’s creative works.

The statement mentions the rights of creators, but we need to be sure this is more than just lip-service, especially as the BBC article states: “The six month review will look at what the UK can learn from US rules on the use of copyright material without the rights holder’s permission.”

That phrase “without the rights holder’s permission” is problematic because the boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable will need to be set, and you can bet the likes of Google will lobby hard to have it set in their favour. They’ll assume that whatever they do, creators will continue to create. Not if their work is constantly stolen and devalued, they won’t. And as usual, the rights of consumers who have paid for that content won’t be taken into account.

My clients won’t take kindly to finding work I’ve shot for them turning up elsewhere, outside of their control and possibly misrepresenting them. And with my right to control use diminished, I will no longer be able to defend my clients’ rights over the pictures they’ve paid for.

That the review will happen is a good thing, but the starting position needs to be more positively in favour of creators and holders of intellectual property, for whom the internet has been a great way to get their work “out there” and get seen, but which mechanism has often led to mass theft rather than mass commissioning of fresh, or licensing of existing, work.

Another big risk is that as with previous reviews the government will turn to the wrong people when seeking advice from the side of the creators, just as it did in the early days of the DEB debate. It’s all very well talking to the National Union of Journalists, who have failed in the past to stand and fight the photographer’s corner, and whose only concern (naturally and understandably) is news photographers. Or the Royal Photographic Society, whose membership consists largely of people with little or no reliance on photography for an income. There are numerous groups whose focus is either too narrow, or membership not representative of the professional photographer.

This time, the government must listen to a much broader range of photographic groups and individuals than the Labour government did during their reviews. They must also dismiss the selfish wishes of those who simply find copyright inconvenient to their wants. This review could influence a law which might not change again for 30 years or more, so if the government wants to get it right, they’ll need to listen to the right people, not just the likes of Google, Facebook and whoever the “next big thing” happens to be. Mr Cameron will need to slip off the Google goggles, and see the reality that faces the UK’s creative individuals.

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  • Gary Brindle November 9, 2010   Reply →

    Looking for a positive aspect of this review I consider that any publicity regarding the current copyright rules would be a bonus. Far to many people consider that it is ok to copy anything which appears online without any permission.

    • Glass Eye November 9, 2010   Reply →

      You’d think, except that many will now assume that copyright is to be changed in favour of the larcenous, so will assume they can carry on nicking stuff en masse and to an even greater extent.

      It is good that the review is happening, and those involved in the Stop43 campaign knew it would come, but it would have been better if Cameron had announced it with a more positive approach to protecting creators’ rights, not starting from the position that large corporations and national interests are “suffering” because of over-rigid copyright laws.

      We have to see how this progresses and be ready to speak to our MPs again.

  • Jas Gibson November 9, 2010   Reply →

    “The six month review will look at what the UK can learn from US rules on the use of copyright material without the rights holder’s permission.”

    Rather like a ‘running meal’ you do a runner and hope not to get caught by the Restaurant owner, get caught you can end up in court and rightly so.

    But the other day when I caught a ‘5 star accommodation provider’ using my images, I am the one made out to be the ‘Bad Guy’!!

    • Glass Eye November 9, 2010   Reply →

      Oh yes, we’re not meant to protect our business assets. Just accept the extra “publicity” gained by having our stolen works plastered all over some random, irrelevant site (oh but we credited you! – not in actual credit, you didn’t). And byline or no byline, theft is theft: “Do you like the dinner service I stole from House of Fraser? Yes, they have some lovely crockery there. You should go and steal yours from there too!”

  • Paul Adams November 9, 2010   Reply →

    Good article Tim.

    I would imagine that if copyright laws where changed to the detriment of the creator then fees would have to go up to compensate for potential infringement (or what would be non-infringement!!). A bit like what has happened in the music industry where gigs are massively more expensive than they used to be so bands can recoup some of their lost revenue. I also suspect there would still be lawsuits against companies ripping off images of competitors. On the other hand, images used in the commercial arena might be better protected and compensation might be easier to enforce but I won’t hold my breath.

    • Glass Eye November 9, 2010   Reply →

      Hmm, nice thought and one that crossed my mind, but I think market pressure and general photographer ignorance will ensure prices can’t rise enough to compensate.

      Companies might consider legal action against those who mis-appropriate their photos, but not sure what circumstances would have to be for that to be viable and would probably require a test case in the first instance. If asked to testify on behalf of a client, I’d be happy to but would have to charge a professional fee to do so.

      I’m not sure how much longer musicians and the music industry can sustain itself on tour and t-shirt sales. This business model may kill a lot of talent, and will leave artists in Dire Straights (ouch!) once their touring careers are over.

  • ian clegg November 10, 2010   Reply →

    Good to see this debate growing. But we need to keep it simple! Get too complicated and Parliment and the public will lose interest then ask Google and the likes to sort it for them.

    Artists have lost their resellers rights and the music industry keeps many people in suits in employ trying to claw back revenue. Photographers stand close!

    Magnum say we own the pictures end of story.

    Give images away for free if you wish, but you will still own the rights of further usage.

    Simple enough?

    • Glass Eye November 10, 2010   Reply →

      Simple would be good. The problem might be that if people don’t understand copyright now (and clearly many don’t) how can we engage them in this debate? Hopefully it won’t be left to aggregators like Getty and Google to fight it out. Creators would be the losers then.

      • Jonnie August 12, 2014   Reply →

        You have more useful info than the British had colonies prIW-WeI.

  • ian clegg November 10, 2010   Reply →

    Exactly – they don’t understand it now – we need to dumb it down and show the masses how damaging it will be if the ‘aggregators’ are left to write copyright law on their own. And then there will be only one outcome.

    Sorry to sound downbeat but the big guns of these companies are aiming straight at us

    • Glass Eye November 11, 2010   Reply →

      I do believe education would help a lot. You and I know that copyright is extremely simple for the most part, and that exceptions to it don’t apply to the majority of people who encounter copyright material. It’s only (well ok, I should say mainly) since the web became so vast, accessible and interactive that copyright has become an issue for people on a daily basis because now they can view, download, upload and share anything they find and there’s no automatic way to prevent them from breaching other people’s copyright. There needs to be more education from government around the subject of copyright.

      What the aggregators need to realise is that if they destroy the professional photography market through over-exploitation, all they’ll be left with in future is HDR landscapes and cute pics of kittens, steam fairs and students waving beer cans.

    • Bertie August 12, 2014   Reply →

      Your post has moved the debate fodrwra. Thanks for sharing!

  • Ken November 17, 2010   Reply →

    Cameron is a corporate friendly politician so let us be very wary of that, their current bedmates the Lib Dems are supposed to be the head kicking saviours of the down trodden and forgotten, in this case professional photographers, however currently their ability to sell out students on uni fees so quickly and easily makes them more of a whore than a bedmate.

    Never forget those who assist corporations to speculate on what they can and cannot get away with, in the end it is only numbers to them geared towards improving the bottom line to keep the share holders happy. They give not a tinkers cuss for those that get rolled along the way.

    Always be vigilant, never give up your rights, stand your ground, do not compromise.

    Better to die on your feet than live on your knees.

    • Glass Eye November 17, 2010   Reply →

      Worth noting also that the Lib Dems failed miserably to understand the issues and gravity of the Orphan Works clause within the Digital Economy Bill. Bizarrely, it was the Conservatives that got that clause kicked out!

      Big corps need to remember that without fair remuneration, individual creators will stop creating and the fuel for future profits will dry up.

      Dammit, Ken, you always bring out the revolutionary in me! I’m beginning to sound like Citizen Smith…

      • Ken November 17, 2010   Reply →

        Sorry Tim, I have always disliked bullies and liars. So be bullied and lied to tend to rile me up.

        Will lift my game and say “mustn’t grumble” more often 😉

  • In humourous response…

    I did recently start to dabble with a more subtle way of attacking freetards. Instead of putting a copyright water mark on images, put ” Copyright Joe Bloggs, only authorised use at www. ….. £100 reward for any information provided by the general public which leads to a successful copyright infringement claim”.

    On a serious note, I don’t know whether legally you would be able to claim a reward against an infringer.

    If google et al are so obsessed with monetising the internet, then

    “here is an exciting new method to do this, which gets the general public on board and helps to educate the population about copyright in the process”

    lol Maybe I should try it, there arn’t may other methods available for making a living from photography these days.

    🙂 🙂 🙂

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