Proposed UK copyright changes spark worldwide protests

US organisations representing photographers and photo agencies have written to the UK government to oppose proposed changes to the country's copyright laws making it legal to use "foreign works without the knowledge and permission of the copyright owners"

Olivier Laurent — 20 November 2012

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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 have submitted a joint letter to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills in the UK to express their deep concerns over the provisions presented in Clause 68 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill.

The bill, which was first introduced in the House of Commons in May, has been sponsored by Vince Cable and Lord Marland of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. It was written to “get rid of unnecessary bureaucracy” but presents a series of provisions to allow the use of Orphan Works such as images that lack metadata and whose copyright owners cannot be found.

The bill is expected to reach the committee stage in the House of Lords on 03 December, but has already attracted criticism for rights owners, photo and stock agencies, as well as photographers who fear that the provisions will make it legal to use images without authorisation from copyright owners.

The US-based organisations representing photographers write: “Legalising the usage of foreign works without the knowledge and permission of the copyright owners will jeopardize the exclusive rights of those owners. 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.”

BJP understands that photographers in other countries are also considering writing to the UK government to oppose the changes.

“If the use of foreign works in the UK is directly or indirectly permitted by this bill, a firestorm of international litigation is predicted,” say the US-based organisations. “The executives of the six organizations warn that any individuals or businesses making use of foreign works under this bill can expect to be sued promptly by the copyright holders.”

They add: “ASMP, PPA, NPPA, PACA, APA and GAG believe that while a solution to the Orphan Works challenge must be found, this bill permitting legalised infringement of foreign works and injecting foreign works into a UK Extended Collective Licensing scheme creates more problems than it solves. The organizations call on the UK government to work with stakeholders to redraft the bill in order to protect and maintain the exclusive rights of foreign copyright holders.”

Read the full letter here [PDF link].