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.

Electile Dysfunction Problems – what’s next?

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.

photo of tile mural in sicily protected by copyright watermark.

Will all photos on the net have to be disfigured just to protect them?

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.