Here we go YET AGAIN! I’m starting to get just the tiniest bit annoyed* at attempts by government to destroy copyright law while claiming it’s progress.
This time it’s the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) showing a distinct lack of intellect on the issue.
Last time this was tried, back in 2010, we were at the cusp of a new government and the Digital Economy Act was being hammered out in Parliament. The clause of contention for photographers was Clause 43 which would have allowed the use of orphan works (photos whose author could not be traced) without the copyright holder’s permission.
Luckily for us, after intense lobbying by photographers, the Stop43 campaign and others, the Conservatives (then in opposition to the Labour government) agreed to pass the act only if clause 43 was removed.
Now it’s back, but this time it’s even worse and it’s now part of a bill, the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, which is unrelated to copyright and therefore fewer people are aware of its existence. Even worse, if passed as primary legislation any future changes to the act will be permissible as secondary legislation without the need of a return to Parliament. Didn’t I previously say democracy was being undermined?
Clauses 67-69 effectively strip the automatic right of copyright from anyone who creates a work including photographs. Within those three clauses you lose the right to control your images if they are found on the internet but not easily traceable to you, you lose the right to say whether or not a photo can be used in any given context and you lose the ability to negotiate your own fees should you decide to sell rights in your photo. In addition, the bill extends exceptions to copyright so more people can use your work, including commercially, with no need to ask permission first.
Of course this is a dire situation for photographers whose livelihoods are built on copyright, but it will affect anyone who takes a photo they wish only to be used in limited ways. Amateurs and professionals alike will be affected.
The clauses also ride roughshod over the rights of the subjects within photographs to decide the limits of use of their likeness. It breaches international copyright laws, though apparently the IPO don’t know enough about copyright to understand this. In short, it is an ill-conceived mess reminiscent of reforms to the NHS, education, just about anything ministers decide to change before they’ve properly considered the issues involved.
What professionals and amateurs need to do is lobby their MPs, lobby the Lords and make it clear these clauses do not belong in this bill. Copyright may well need reform, but it’s too big an issue to shuffle past our noses disguised within another bill, and these clauses are not the answer. If the question is how do we stimulate growth in the UK economy, the answer has to be better planned than this.
Further reading and guidance on how you can get involved:
*My entry for Understatement of the Year Awards 2013