US Photo Orgs Pen Joint Letter to the UK Gov’t Protesting Copyright Change

Earlier this week we reported that it is now easier for photographers in the UK to pursue copyright infringement cases without having to shell out big money for a lawyer. While that law change is likely a big boon for photographers, there are other proposed law changes that have some photographers up in arms.

Olivier Laurent of the British Journal of Photography writes that a number of photographer organizations in the United States have joined arms to write a letter to the UK government, protesting a certain section of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill that may become law later this year or early next year.

The controversy revolves around a new “orphan works” section that’s strikingly similar to one that was scratched back in 2010. It’s part of Clause 68 of the bill under a section titled, “Power to provide for licensing of orphan works.” Here’s a snippet:

The Secretary of State may by regulations provide for the grant of licences in respect of works that qualify as orphan works under the regulations […] The regulations must provide that, for a work to qualify as an orphan work, it is a requirement that the owner of copyright in it has not been found after a diligent search made in accordance with the regulations […] The regulations may provide for the granting of licences to do, or authorise the doing of, any act restricted by copyright that would otherwise require the consent of the missing owner […] The regulations may apply to a work although it is not known whether copyright subsists in it […]

The fear is that this would allow copyrighted photographs to be freely used by anyone, as long as a “diligent search” fails to reveal the identity of the photographer.

In their joint letter protesting this section, the American Society of Media Photographers, Professional Photographers of America, National Press Photographers Association, Picture Archive Council of America, American Photographic Artists and Graphic Artists Guild write,

We assert that the majority of photographs and illustrations deemed to be “orphan works” in the UK under the Bill will be works created and owned by foreign persons and businesses. Involuntary injection of these foreign works into a UK Extended Collective Licensing program or similar legalized infringement scheme with neither the knowledge or consent of the foreign copyright holders is morally reprehensible, contrary to the letter and spirit of UK and USA copyright laws […]

If enacted, the Bill will permit foreign works to be used without the permission of or credit and compensation to their rights holders. The prospect of unknown, ongoing unlicensed usage of foreign works in the UK will prevent any rights holder in any country from licensing exclusive rights to any party. In many instances, unlicensed usage of foreign work in the UK will drastically devalue the works throughout their copyright life.

You can read the letter in its entirety here:

The groups also warn that if the new “orphan works” law passes, “a firestorm of international litigation will immediately ensue.”

Thanks for sending in the tip, Phil!

Image credit: Palace of Westminster – London, England by Trodel

  • JosephRT

    The bill essentially legalizes copyright infringement.

  • Jonathon Watkins

    Yup, which is why we have been fighting it & shouting about it since it was first tried last year.

  • pak152

    you may want to check with professional archives organizations such as the Society of American Archivists to learn more about the problem of “orphan works”. Virtually every archives in the US has photographs whether negatives or prints for which they have no idea as to who the copyright holder is. As a result these items are not shown to researchers, the are not published and the effort to locate the copyright holder is way too expensive.
    Statement of Best Practices – Orphan Works

    Response to statement on orphan works

  • Mansgame

    So someone can find an image on google image search, but not find the full name of the photographer (I don’t particularly like putting my name out there on flickr) and then use that picture for any purpose they want and it’s ok?

  • Mitch Labuda

    It’s law in the U.K., where’s the firestorm of law suits?