Groundhog Year for Photographers

Another year, another copyright review. When have we been here before? It’s like Groundhog Day, but on an annual basis. Ok, maybe not quite yearly but there have been quite a number of reviews and proposed changes to legislation in recent years. Of course for the purposes of this article, I’m concentrating on copyright as it relates to photography.

Most reviews look at copyright in the round, and often the photographer’s concerns are drowned in the din of discussion about whether or not Cliff Richard should continue to make money from his sound recordings long after he’s gone into cryogenic suspension.

copyright stamp

Is copyright really so outdated?

The latest copyright review, currently underway, aims to bring UK copyright into the 21st century. My only problem with this concept is that copyright is fine, but what is lacking is education and understanding. And yet again photography will be seen as some hobbyist’s side-show and not worth considering, but I suspect this is because the professional photographic industry is less vocal than the music, movie and gaming software industries. Plus photographers tend to be solitary souls working in isolation and aren’t seen as a coherent industry.

It doesn’t help that many professional photographers don’t understand basic copyright or licensing, and many are reluctant to speak out, favouring the approach of leaving it all to someone else to lobby and campaign to save their means of income.

Neither does it help that those bodies which are meant to represent professional photographers don’t seem to understand the issues either. The Royal Photographic Society slipped up badly during the debate of the Digital Economy Bill in 2010 by supporting the orphan works clause so let’s hope they and others have learned from that experience.

In fact orphan works is bound to raise its head once again in this current review. Just to explain, orphan works are creative works which become “orphaned” from their creator through the stripping of any identifying information. It’s easily done on the internet, and all too easy for those wishing to steal photos for their own gain.

Orphan works also include anything currently lounging in museums, libraries or other archives which have no traceability back to a “parent” creator, and there is a case for making these works available for research or inclusion in other culturally beneficial works. The problem is, lobbyists want any legislation that releases those works to also cover any photo taken by anyone at any time. Including the photos you’ve taken or will take in future. And they want to be able to exploit or licence those photos for any use they can think of without having to negotiate fees and usage with you. This would happen under a system known as Extended Collective Licensing.

This would ride roughshod over copyright law, which allows a creator the final say on how, where and when their work is used as well as, of course, at what price. For commercial and social photographers this would cause a nightmare as much of what we shoot is commissioned exclusively for clients. How can we protect that exclusivity if orphan works legislation allows unfettered access to images which may have been stolen in the first place?

Unless photographers, amateur and professional, pull together we are going to get lumped with legislation that will make it virtually impossible to protect our work. For more information on the current review, click here. Even if you’re not a professional, it’s worth signing up to blogs like mine and the EPUK Weekly News which will aim to keep you informed of developments, because there will come a moment when you will need to lobby your MP and MEP on this issue.

Funny Tim is away this week. He’ll be back again soon.


Thanks to for the Photoshop effects brush I used in this week’s illustration.

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  • Curtis Neeley January 10, 2011
    All uses of “I” in this post refer to Curtis Neeley. The UK is ahead of the US in regards to copyright, as should be obvious. Google Inc is one of the primary reasons that copyright continues to be debated on Earth. In the US, GOOG announced establishing an “alternative” to copyright and hundreds of people and scores of countries have objected.

    I am sure hundreds in the UK objected to Google Inc scanning millions of books and publishing them online despite copyrights. GOOG alleges that copyrights need to be updated into the new millennium. The one that exists in the US and in WIPO is lacking in education. The US just allegedly got up to speed with WIPO and recognized moral and attribution rights for visual artist in 1990. In the following twenty years there were around nine cases that addressed it but none addressed moral rights.

    The United States laws regarding copyrights included “fair-use” exemptions and those are why search engines almost always are based in the US.

    This is often the driving rational for the current claim that copyright is outdated.

    GOOG and the US are going to address the violation of copyrights when the case reaches trial on
    July 11, 20011. I am seeking scores of billions from GOOG.

    A caller from there presumably offered 5 million to settle. How much are your moral rights worth? Every artist on Earth will be benefited by the JURY ruling this summer.

  • kgbkjb2010 January 16, 2011  

    It goes on adnauseum doesn’t it. When will these lazy greedy bastards in corporate life wake up to the idea that you have to actually pay for stuff.

    It would be nice if we could all lobby the government with our squillions of dollars profit each year to make say, Sainsbury or Tesco give us food for free once one of our ancestors has paid for an initial lot but my guess is the CEO’s and directors of these companies would bleat to us that this is not how it works.

    So why do these bottom dwellers want one set of rules for them and one set of rules for us? When Microsoft and Adobe decide to not want royalties from their software licenses well I’ll stop and listen to any new argument for 3 seconds, until then – Here’s my invoice and terms are COD …….Punk!

    • Glass Eye January 17, 2011  

      We live in hope of free food for photographers. Can’t see it being universally taken up though.

      Thanks Ken.

      • Ken of London January 17, 2011  

        This subject is the one that really winds me up. They will keep hitting it until they get their own way.

        At least in Australia there are very clear and concise laws covering this and hopefully our Government remains strong.

        Floods and fires allowing

        (and crap cricketers)

        • Glass Eye January 17, 2011  

          I believe there are the same threats to copyright in Australia, or at least there have been.

          Oh well, if I can’t have proper copyright protection for my work, I’ll have to charge my clients to protect the work I shoot for them. It doesn’t help that so few professional photographers have ever understood copyright. What I call Amateur Professionals.

  • Ken of London January 17, 2011  

    Either that Tim or we can start up a copyright museum!

    We’ll sell coffee and cakes on on the weekend people can get a full English. Once full of food and coffee they can peruse scenes of the old days when creative’s where protected by law and not exploited by greedy corporations.

    We could call it “Soilent not so green, really more a faded indigo blue when you look at it darlings”

    Okay so I have gone from ranting to loony ravings, its monday I go kinda crazy on mondays.