Fact – Myth-busting requires facts

There has been much a-do about the Enterprise Regulation Reform Act (ERRA) and I’ve written about it before and shall no doubt have to write about it again. Much to my irritation.

In response to the many millions of words written about it and an e-petition on the Number 10 website, which currently stands at almost 27,000 signatures, the Intellectual Property Office has issued a statement which it hopes will calm the fears of photographers.

The problem with the document is that writing the word “Fact” in bold lettering at the start of a sentence doesn’t make that sentence irrefutable. There are still too many variables, too many vague answers to specific points and the act has as yet no regulations applied to it, which is why so much that has been written can only guess at what the real purpose of the act will be.

Reading the statement, what kept jumping out for me was the idea that orphaned works could be licensed and licensed “at the going rate.” I’d very much like to know how a government-appointed agent will decide the “going rate” for any particular photo. How will they know whether or not consent for the proposed use would have been granted without the author having been contacted? How will they know what the rights holder would have charged for the use of that image if they were given the choice?

How will anyone not connected to the image or its author know if any people in the photo would be happy for their likeness to be used in any given context? Who will even know which country the image originated in? Or whether the original client for that photo is happy for others to use it? Many images (most of the ones I take for my living) are supplied on an exclusive basis.

I quote here a typical paragraph from the IPO’s response:

“Myth – anyone can use my photos without my permission

Fact – Anyone wishing to use a work as an orphan must first undertake a diligent 

search for the rights-holder which is then verified with permission to use the work 

granted by the Government appointed independent authorising body. If the work is 

not genuinely orphan then the rights-holder should be found, if the search is not 

properly diligent, no licence will be issued.”

Presumably though, if it is decided the search was diligent, but the rights-holder was still not found, the image can be paid for at an un-specified “going rate” and used with permission of the governing body. Therefore, without the rights-holder’s permission. That paragraph, like so many others in this document should read simply:

“Fact – anyone can use my photos without my permission

Fact – Maybe. There will be some kind of procedure as yet unspecified and you might lose control of your image, but don’t worry your silly little head about that.”

It will be interesting to know how on the flip-side of this, the rights-holder is supposed to discover their work has been used and then claim whatever money (or Green Shield stamps or bellybutton fluff) has been held in safe-keeping for them. Are creators expected to constantly check an ever-expanding register of works for use of their images? If the granting of licences is an exception rather than a rule, this might even be possible, but it’s still not ideal and still rides roughshod over the basic tenets of copyright.

IF the IPO had come straight out and said “this act will ONLY apply to works held in recognised historical archives” a lot of fears might have been assuaged, but they didn’t.

The IPO also makes no mention of any plans to strengthen moral rights – the right to be identified as the author of a work, the right not to have one’s work mis-attributed and in particular, the right not to have identifying data stripped from one’s images. Simply by re-enforcing the the creator’s right to have their identity kept with the work would be a start.

The problem with the IPO’s statement is it’s lack of clarity, either through insufficient understanding of their own subject, or because there is unseen industry pressure to keep things vague until the great reveal of the guidelines by which time it will be too late for photographers to properly and comprehensively defend their rights.

Given tight enough regulation, the ERRA could be a good thing for photographers by making it clear our works, even where their identifying data has been removed, are not orphans, but until the guidelines are published we have no idea of the intention of the legislation. By the time we do know, it’ll be too late to do anything about it. I have a terrible feeling we’re being inched towards a goal that was decided upon long before Hargreaves set up his review.

Can we please get on with our jobs?

Shame on me, the deadline is looming and I’ve still not submitted to the call for evidence into the feasibility of the Digital Copyright Exchange (DCE).

To address this I started work on my submission yesterday with the thought of airing my fascinating views on the subject both to the DCE call for evidence by Richard Hooper and here in my blog, but then an email came in from the Design Artists Copyright Society (DACS – see more about them here).

The email is a link to an online survey asking my views on Extended Collective Licensing (my views aren’t positive). Included in that email is a link to the Intellectual Property Office review of copyright which calls for evidence from copyright owners, creators and users, and which was set up in light of the Hargreaves review of copyright which also called for evidence from, among others, creators, creators’ agents, designers and end users of copyright materials.

Are you starting to see where I’m going with this? There appears to be an almost constant flow of reviews, calls for evidence, surveys and reviews of the results of reviews, calls for evidence and surveys around the issue of copyright. And this has been going on for years! It’s like an American freight train that’s become so long, the engine driver can see the back end of his own guards van as he goes round in a never-ending loop.

I’m beginning to suspect that the purpose of all these reviews is to keep some civil servants in endless employment, and to wear photographers and other creatives down until they just give up submitting evidence and the freeconomists win the argument by forfeit.

The basis of all this gravytrainery is that it’s been decided (by someone who might have a vested interest *coff* GOOGLE!) that copyright is unfit for purpose in the digital age, and so the reviews began.

What seems to be ignored is that copyright is perfectly fit for the digital age, but that systems for preventing its abuse haven’t been kept in line with the ease of the abuse. Neither has education kept pace with the sudden access that everyone now has to easily findable and replicable online content.

Copyright review

Defending my job is becoming a full-time job

The cause of creators hasn’t been helped by the big conglomerates that control a lot of copyright works, such as the music labels, film studios and mass photo libraries, all of whom have made great strides in aggravating the people who wish to access and enjoy the products they licence. So the argument about copyright is often seen as the ‘little’ people against the goliath organisations, where in fact it’s the ‘little’ creators who create the content which is then sold on by the Goliaths. When copyright is infringed, very often it’s the creator who loses out while the big organisations continue to make healthy profits from the work of others. They also have the financial clout to defend infringements more forcefully than individual creators.

Perhaps the most worrying thing of all for creators is that every time there is a review, the evidence which is seen most prominently will be that of the many people who don’t understand why they have to pay for what they can so easily copy, and the aggregators whose protection of the works doesn’t always translate into protection for those who created the works in the first place.

All of which is to say, I’ll have to get this submission done, and complete the DACS survey, AND submit to the IPO review. After which, could I please be allowed to get on with my job instead of endlessly having to defend my livelihood? Probably need to review that.

The Orphans are Back!

IP review laid out

Interesting plot, but predictable outcome.

I’d hoped to comment much earlier on the government-commissioned independent Review of Intellectual Property and Growth, but the resulting document produced by Professor Hargreaves and his team has taken me far too long to wade through while still trying to get on with the business of being a photographer.

And herein lies a common problem with such reviews. Those who stand to lose the most are the ones with the least time to spare to influence and pour over the review’s conclusions.

Like may photographers, I simply don’t have time to wade through all 123 pages of the report. I submitted my views back in March, and they were duly noted and published on the Review site, but apart from a few passing references to photography, the review seems to have concerned itself more with music, film and TV rights when dealing with copyright in the creative industries.

So you’ll forgive me (probably thank me) if I don’t go into great detail here about what I think of the review, it’s implications for professional and amateur photographers. I think I may be review-weary, especially as many of the arguments raised and defeated in the Digital Economy Bill debate are predictably reappearing.

What is quite ironic though is that one of the main areas for the review to consider was that of Fair Use of copyright works.

In announcing the review in November last year, David Cameron said:

“The founders of Google have said they could never have started their company in Britain. The service they provide depends on taking a snapshot of all the content on the internet at any one time and they feel our copyright system is not as friendly to this sort of innovation as it is in the United States. Over there, they have what are called “fair use” provisions, which some people believe gives companies more breathing space to create new products and services.”

But it would seem the one thing he picked out for special consideration appears to be the one thing the review recommends against, the truth being that although the USA does have Fair Use exceptions to copyright, this has done nothing to stem the tide of legal actions in copyright disputes.

Cameron was mis-guided to site Google as an example in any event, because unless I’m missing something, Google appears to function perfectly well in this country. In fact I suspect that had Google started in this country, it would have been when their service hit US digital territories that they would have run into trouble.

There’s a generous smattering of conditional terms in Cameron’s introduction, such as “feel”, “some people” and “believe”. In other words, Google had a hunch their startup stage would have been hampered in the UK, but they have no real evidence to support this view.

In essence I’ve not really scratched the surface of the review in this posting, but I’ll sum it up like this:

1 Orphan works is back – I hope someone sees the sense to keep contemporarily-created images separate from museum-held works. Not an easy distinction, except that any orphans then can ONLY be works which have been digitized from orphan originals held by museums, art galleries and other public bodies. And images cannot be called orphans just because the meta data has been stripped (as happens when images are submitted to Facebook, BBC etc).

2 No apparent extra protections for photographers works – no sanctions against the stripping of IPTC info, or the willful creation of orphan works.

3 Worrying references to “flexible legislation” which potentially means copyright law can be changed without recourse to Parliament.

At this stage I can’t say I’m getting overly anxious. The report will be poured over and picked apart. For any of it to become legislation it will have to be drafted by lawyers and debated in Parliament, and in the meantime it seems rulings are coming from the EU which point to better protections for creators, and all this needs to be standardized across the EU, including the UK.

One final irony is that while the report seems to be concerned almost exclusively with music, TV, films and games, the cover features a photo of what appears to be a photographer’s studio. It would be nice if they’d bothered to listen to photographers then.

Reviewing the Review (so far)

Last Friday was the deadline for submissions to the “Independent Review of IP and Growth” (stay awake now) which is looking into intellectual property and copyright in the UK and how it should adapt to this digital age.

The review is headed by Professor Ian Hargreaves, who according to his blog has spent most of his working life involved in the creative industries. Well, newspapers to be precise which I would say USES creative input, but doesn’t strictly count (in my humble opinion) as a creative industry.

Much (ok, all) of the IPO review panel, was made up of corporate suits whose main interest in copyright lies in arm-twisting it from the hands of individual creators, but I don’t want this article to descend into political rantings so I’ll pause there and instead ask the question, “so what happens now?”

Not being an expert in constitutional affairs I can only be a little vague about this, and indeed Professor Hargreaves doesn’t really know either so I won’t be too hard on myself about that.

In a nutshell, the evidence is in, the review team will start to review submissions and evidence, and then report to Government in a few months’ time who will probably um and ah for a while before drafting legislation that will (probably) be deeply flawed and skewed in favour of some future Google-style startup.

So what evidence will the panel and the Prof be considering? Well I have to say, I’m a little surprised that by Friday morning there were only 180 submissions of evidence, including mine. I sincerely hope there was a late and massive surge as the day drew to a close, because that 180 will have come from all quarters – individual film makers, musicians, writers, artists, the trade bodies representing those industries as well as consumers, inventors, entrepreneurs and the publishers, broadcasters and aggregators who deliver creative content. Suffice to say a lot of submissions from many quarters and interest groups, both in favour of and against the strengthening and or weakening of copyright.

epuk logo

EPUK submitted on behalf of its 1,000 members.

However, as with previous reviews and proposals, I fear the voice of photographers will have been drowned out by those who view copyright as an impediment to theft. Perhaps drowned out is the wrong phrase to use if, as I suspect, the number of submissions from UK photographers is pitifully low.

There are thousands of photographers in this country. Think of all the wedding and portrait photographers there must be out there. The editorial, commercial, corporate, advertising, industrial, architectural photographers. You could pave a four lane motorway from here to Moscow in both directions with the skin off the backs of all the photographers in the UK (I didn’t say it would be a good motorway), but where are they when they need to defend their own business assets?

It’ll be the photographer’s enemy and constant companion apathy again. That, and the fact that many of us are heartily fed up with fighting the constant threats to our working lives, while simultaneously trying to get on with our working lives. My suspicion is that if this review and subsequent legislation don’t give the Big Boys what they want (unfettered access to anything you or I create), we’ll end up right back where we started, with another review and another call for evidence.

stop 43 logo

Stop43 submitted on behalf of photographers more generally.

Mr Hargreaves, don’t get too disheartened; Mr Gowers went before you and I suspect someone else will have to conduct another review in another five or six years. Assuming of course there’s anything left of copyright to review by then.

Don’t be submissive, submit now!

The sharp-eyed amongst you may have noticed the tardy arrival of this article. It’s all my fault. I’ve been busy working on new projects, assignments and whotnot, plus last week was half term which made for all kinds of interesting time conflicts.

But as if there wasn’t enough to be a-getting on with, the deadline for the Hargreaves intellectual property review has been looming fast, and this Friday (March 4th 2011) is the last date for submissions. I’ve been working on my submission, and I can’t stress this enough; other photographers have GOT to get their submissions in too, or forever hold your manhoods (and copyright) cheap. Do not complain later that you never got a say in how your work is exploited commercially by anyone who happens to steal it.

And businesses that commission original, exclusive photography for their websites, brochures, annual reports and the like should also consider dropping Mr Hargreaves a line, because if the worst case scenario comes to pass, it will no longer be possible to hold exclusive rights to images (whether taken by a professional or in-house) once they’re posted online, and photographers like myself may have even less say in how the work we do for you is used by others. Frankly, the current safeguards against image theft on the internet are pretty meaningless, and this is one area where the law needs to be strengthened.

Another area is that of attribution. Every photo a professional photographer takes should (if they know what they’re doing) have data embedded which gives the copyright status of the image and contact details of the photographer. It’s called metadata, and it’s imperative that any future law makes it clear that that metadata must be preserved as an image is uploaded to, moved around and/or downloaded from the internet or moved (or copied) from one medium to another to prevent the creation of so-called orphan works.

My submission is shaping up to be an explanation of the problems photographers currently face; a lack of understanding of the value of copyright, publishers and news organisations using pictures from the internet as if it were a vast, free stock photo library for them to use as they wish, and the lack of any real sanctions for photographers who find their work being misappropriated. I explain that many of the exclusive deals I have with my clients will be rendered useless unless unscrupulous businesses and publishers are forced to accept that they have to pay for their own content just like everyone else.

It’s a short article this week, because I’ve still some work to do on my submission while also trying to get work done, so I’ll leave you with the tools you’ll need to get your own submissions written and in before the deadline. Why are you still here? GO!GO!GO! and write your submission now…

Hargreaves Call for Evidence.

How to submit responses.

Cover sheet (must accompany your response!)

Meet Mr Hargreaves.

Stop43 has a tonne of information for you.

No photo this week. I didn’t want it nicked…



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 http://www.obsidiandawn.com/ for the Photoshop effects brush I used in this week’s illustration.