Copyright’s Last Stand?

The Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property and Growth having published its conclusions, creators of copyright material can now submit views to the Digital Copyright Exchange feasibility study being run by former chairman of Ofcom Richard Hooper which will look into what form a DCE would take.

One vision of DCE was described by Hooper during an interview on Radio 4s Today programme as an Amazon-style market place where creators could set prices for their work and buyers could browse, buy and take possession of licenses of high-resolution versions of digital works in a very streamlined process.

It’s not clear to me how this would work. How would the DCE be populated with works? Who would be adding them? Would it become a facility that can bypass the Getty-like stranglehold on licensing? Perhaps photographers would be able to upload images and sell direct, negotiating their own fees and keeping a much higher percentage of the revenue from sales. Clearly this would benefit photographers and end-users as there would be a renewed incentive for quality images to be made available.

I do fear however that fees will be set independently as it’s envisioned that the process should be as much like online retail as possible, but that this will ignore all the factors that a photographer would need to take into account such as end use or commercial/non-commercial requirements of an image.

Meanwhile, would Getty stand for this? They might find their traditional suppliers drifting away if the scheme offered better returns on their images. Alternatively, an organisation like Getty or Corbis (owned by Bill Gates) might offer to host and administer such a scheme, but that risks bringing us straight back to where we are now.

Is there not a risk that a DCE would create a two-tier copyright protection where your images are better protected if they’re in the scheme? And how is use of the scheme and images sold through it to be policed? This isn’t going to be an easy thing to set up and administer, and the internet has a habit of suddenly shifting and going off in its own direction once you try to coral the content.

Stop 43 is campaigning for better protection of photographers' copyright.

I don’t feel I’m best placed to investigate all the issues as I’ve not had the time to fully absorb the conclusions of the Hargreaves review, but take a look at the Stop 43 site which has some really useful info and ideas, and visit the Intellectual Property Office website where you can submit your views on the Digital Copyright Exchange. I urge both professional and amateur photographers to do so as this affects our ability to say where and how our own images are used. You may not like what’s coming, but this might be your only chance to shape it.