New UK Policy Raises Concern Over Copyright Amongst Photographers

The UK government issued an updated copyright policy statement today that’s intended to modernize copyright law in a digital era. But here’s where those traditionally protected under copyright — authors, poets, artists, photographers and so forth — begin to cringe: sweeping definitions of “orphan works” and Extended Collective Licensing could allow companies to buy chunks of content without compensating original authors.

The document states:

Copyright brings undoubted benefits to its owners, but has consequences for others. Restrictions on copying that are intended to protect creators and encourage investment can end up merely preventing the use of works. The Government is concerned both to provide appropriate incentives to creators and creative industries and to ease unnecessary restrictions on users of copyright works. In some circumstances there may be benefits to the UK from allowing greater access to a stock of works for creators to draw on, from reduced transaction costs and from more opportunities to knowledge, data, and cultural works.

A number of such examples were highlighted within the Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property and Growth 2 (May 2011), to which the Government responded in August 2011 with a number of proposals. The Government response indicated a desire to facilitate the legitimate use of copyright works without undue adverse impact on creators and rights owners, and to improve the flexibility of the system to deal fairly with digital technology and the potential for copying and new uses of works that it brings.

One such way the government will add “legitimate use of copyright works” is by changing the process of copyrighting.

The Register’s Andrew Orlowski writes in an analysis of the policy that potentially, content creators could lose their digital rights unless they opt out of the new Extended Collective Licensing (ECL) program:

It would operate roughly like this. A new agency, let’s call it ‘Bastard Ltd’ could apply to become a licensing authority for a given class of work, for example, cartoons or poems. It could then license any work in that class without the rightsholder’s permission, for any fee it cares to set, so long as it was “significantly representative of rights holders affected by the scheme”. Amazingly, Bastard Ltd would have no obligation to return revenue gained to the rightsholder, if it couldn’t find them. The obligation would fall upon the rightsholder to keep the agency updated at all times – the reverse of the law today. The Government calls the proposals ‘voluntary’, but it’s actually anything but: if you don’t like it, you too will have to opt out.

Content creators will have to register their work through the Digital Copyright Exchange in order to opt out.

In the Authors Rights blog analysis, there’s a more slippery slope when it comes to “orphan works” — unclaimed or untraceable works.

Hargreaves calls for legislation to enable ECL for ‘mass licensing of orphan works’ and establish a procedure for clearing rights in individual works. In the Executive Summary he says that ‘a work should only be treated as an orphan if it cannot be found by search of the databases involved in the proposed Digital Copyright Exchange’. [p. 8] This implies that the sole or main determinant of orphan status would be the failure to register a work with the Digital Copyright Exchange. In a couple of other places, however, he talks as though checking with the projected Exchange would only be one of the requirements (though an important one) in a more extensive ‘diligent search’ process that would necessary before a work could be treated as an orphan. [4.34, 4.56].

… Under Hargreaves’ proposals, anything not specifically opted out of the ECL scheme is to be treated as an orphan for the purposes of mass licensing, regardless of whether its owner is traceable.

You can read the law and statements here.

(via The Register)

Image credit: Grabbing Hand by brtsergio

  • Val E1005

    What ever happen to the basic law of the land, “if it ain’t yours don’t take it, use it, covet it, etc.”? Do I smell a Tea Party In Britain? ( The original one, not the loony one)

  • freeboprich

    After all the effort we went through to block this, the Tories still slipped it through when they thought we’d all been distracted. They’re just pandering to the Press Moguls again, has the Levenson Enquiry taught them NOTHING?

  • Dov

    so big media owns there word and will prosecute you for theft and will then take your works and prosecute you for your work

  • Rob S

    Wow. Can someone explain what this would mean for non UK residents?

    Could a UK company go on to flickr and claim my photos as orphaned works?

    US companies who deal in content – like blogger and flickr – need to get this straight fast because I want an option to opt out of my content being accessible from UK domains if they can claim it.

  • photog

    nothing new here….copyrights were invented to protect the publishers, not the original authors. Attorney Stephan Kinsella has written extensively on this subject.

  • Alexander Petricca

    Another classic Conservative move- absolute idiots. I’m glad I’m moving my business away from Commercial jobs. The less I have to do with Copyright licensing in this retarded country the better. Perhaps it’s time to apply for residency elsewhere and leave this joke of a country to rot.

  • Atreides

    Wellcome to a UK version of spaniards SGAE (Authors’ General Societty or Sociedad General de Autores in spanish) Sort of bandits gang. You are screwed if you allow to dress a pant with pickpocket hand included, like the Bandits forementioned…

  • Dan Howard

    Copyrights and Copywrongs by siva vaidhyanathan is a great book to read on the history of copyright law.

    This is pretty bad for photographers and digital media creators in particular as copying an image and removing it from its source is fairly easy to do. Removing it form its source would then lead it to be an orphaned work. I don’t think it is possible for them to claim an orphaned work if it was accessed from a site such as instagram/flikr/500px which clearly has a copyright policy and shows the owners username etc.

    It is getting incredibly hard for photographers to make a living in a digital age and the problem is that non-photographers don’t understand the craft well enough to realise how much work goes into our work.

    It’s like we need to rethink how .jpg data is stored so we can embed the copyright info into the image. CAN’T SOMEONE FIGURE THIS OUT???

  • Knur

    UK is the worst place for photographers. The Hell on Earth