We may have just had the most exciting election since Blair took power from the Tories in 1997, but the result has been somewhat surreal and indecisive. At least now David Dimbleby can finally take a nap and Gordon Brown can finally switch his smile off for good. No more face-strain for Gordon, no more wincing for us.
I suppose we have to accept that the most pressing job of the new government will be to sort out the dog’s breakfast we laughingly call our economy, though to be fair to Gordon and Labour, it really wasn’t their fault. The problem is, as it’s not the Government’s fault, by logical extension there also isn’t a great deal any government can do to correct it apart from push some debt around until it pops up somewhere else, like a fiscal version of whack-a-mole.
I don’t wish to dwell too much on the economy though. I’m happy to leave it to others with far larger brains than mine to make an even bigger mess of it at the expense of those of us least able to cope with the consequences. What I’m really interested in for the purpose of this blog is what a Tory/Lib Dem government will do about copyright, orphan works and extended collective licensing.
Yes, I know it’s not a major issue right this minute, but it will become one very quickly and we can’t be sure when it will sit up and slap us in the face, so we need to be prepared.
Let’s look back first to those halcyon days when a Parliament wasn’t hung and prime ministers weren’t a double act. When the Digital Economy Bill was passed into law (the DEB almost certainly will be revisited soon) and the orphan works clause was debated, albeit briefly, in the Commons.
What happened then, just to recap, was that under lobbying pressure from photographers and the Stop43 campaign, Conservatives (with an eye on the electoral prize) agreed to drop Clause 43, while Labour (perhaps thinking they had more chance of a majority than they actually did) decided they didn’t need to drop Clause 43 – or perhaps it was their bargaining chip for getting the rest of the DEB through all along, whatever. Meanwhile, Don Foster for the Lib Dems argued to amend the clause, but keep it. This despite the fact he’d been told in great detail why this was a bad idea.
So now that we have a Tory/Lib Dem coalition government, do we really know where the parties stand? The Conservatives said at the time of the DEB debate that there would need to be a proper review of copyright, OW and ECL after the election, and it would appear that at face value they have some sympathy with photographers and other creators of original content. But then we have the Lib Dems, who clearly don’t understand the issues.
With some luck the Lib Dems will see the light, and the Tories won’t be lobbied so mercilessly by publishers, aggregators and content thieves that they lose sight of the fact that photographers generate a great deal of wealth for business and the country. It’s part of our industry and our culture. It’s our heritage too. Without professional photographers, all users of images would suffer and visual innovation would stall.
It’s going to require a mammoth effort from core groups of photographers to draw up required minimum standards for any review and subsequent legislation, but it will also require the effort of individuals who claim to care about photography. They will need to keep in close contact with local groups, who in turn should keep an eye on developments at national level so that when the time comes, our voices won’t be drowned out by big business and freetards.