Thursday, November 19, 2009

Digital Economy Bill May Change Copyright Law In UK

In the U.S., Google Book Settlement is the headline at water cooler discussions on copyright, and the Orphan Works Act has stalled temporarily, in part because the Senate Judiciary Committee is preoccupied with things like trying terrorists. Meanwhile in Europe, they have been burning the midnight oil to change their copyright laws to reflect Orphan Works, the Google Book Settlement, content theft on the Internet, and public opinion. The outcome could dramatically affect rights holders.

On November 18th, Her Majesty The Queen of England called for passage of the Digital Economy Bill in her traditional speech to the House of Lords and House of Commons. Britain’s Digital Economy Bill is based largely on a report by its Intellectual Property Office (IPO) entitled "© the way ahead". The British Journal of Photography (BJP) summarizes the report, saying it "asks rights holders to broaden the terms of their licences, allowing the public to use photographs for non-commercial uses without payment or authorisation. It also proposes the establishment of a new collective licensing agency, orphan works legislation and less ‘muscular’ enforcement of image theft."

BJP has reported on this legislative initiative from the rights holder’s perspective in two articles that are quoted in this blog post: "Copyright changes to be announced in Queen's Speech?" and "Government goes ahead with changes to UK licensing rules".

BJP says the Digital Economy Bill proposes "changes to the copyright licensing scheme [that] could impact photographers the most, as non-commercial consumers could use images without having to ask for permission or providing payment to the photographer."

According to BJP, IPO finds the current copyright system to be too complex for users. Although fair compensation for rights holders would be required, BJP quotes IPO as saying that, "making non-commercial use less onerous for consumers, for example by removing the need to seek permission and make payment for personal use of individual copyright works, would help."

IPO believes that one big problem is not being able to find rights holders. BJP quotes IPO as saying "… systems for licensing are complex, time-consuming to access and incomplete. Copyright is automatic and many works (such as photographs) do not incorporate details of their creator or rights holder. As a result, it is hard to get permission to use works. A user may find it impossible to identify the owner of a work."

IPO seems to conclude if there is no method to easily find photographers from their images, then it’s more expedient to change copyright law to no longer make it a copyright violation to use images for non-commercial use without authorization of the rights holder. IPO says, "Making licensing easier benefits all who are currently involved …" quotes Stewart Gibson, head of Members' Services at the Bureau of Freelance Photographers, as saying that although use of a wedding photographer's pictures, for example, without consent would deprive the photographer of a re-print fee, the use of images on someone's personal blog page, say, is "probably not going to be a big deal". Gibson added: "It's not an ideal situation but there is nothing you can do about it in the internet age."

A 2009 survey concluded that over half of people feel it should not be illegal to use someone else’s photos for your personal use. When asked "Should it be illegal to copy an image from a Website for your personal use?" 74% said 'no' in the street interviews and 46% said 'no' in the online survey. Support of legalizing such use goes up even further if proper credit is provided to the creator (an "attribution right"). Subsequent surveys support these numbers. (The full copyright survey in Creator’s Circle Magazine can be read on pages 20 and 21).

This may all seem confusing, as law-making often is. Although previously inconceivable, the logical direction of this movement is clear … and unsettling. If rights holders choose not to enable all means possible to associate their ownership with their creative works, and if there is no easy way for the masses to license that work for personal uses, such as blogging, it could become politically expedient to just change copyright laws to make it acceptable to use the creative works of others without paying. BJP’s reporting would seem to indicate this is the heart of the proposal by the Queen of England.

The two easiest ways to associate a rights holder’s contact information with their images are by 1) embedding IPTC or other data in each image, and 2) using image registries like The Copyright Registry at provides various automated and bulk methods to register images at a cost that is almost free.

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