Photography industry shows mass opposition to government copyright changes

More than 70 organisations representing photographers, agencies and picture libraries – from Associated Press, Getty Images, Magnum Photos to the Press Association and Reuters – have joined forces, urging Parliament to vote against proposed changes to UK copyright law, BJP can exclusively reveal

Olivier Laurent — 25 January 2013

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The controversial provisions are part of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, sponsored by Vince Cable and Lord Marland of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The bill was originally written to eradicate unnecessary bureaucracy but presents a series of provisions, introduced through the back door by the Intellectual Property Office, to allow the use of Orphan Works such as images that lack metadata and whose copyright owners cannot be found.

However, in an unprecedented move, 73 organisations and individuals have co-signed a briefing letter sent to members of the House of Lords to express their deep opposition to the changes to the UK’s copyright laws. Among the signatories are Thomson Reuters, British Pathé, Press Association, Getty Images, Associated Press, Corbis, Magnum Photos, the Mary Evans Picture Library, the Association of Photographers, the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies, The Art Archive, Nature Picture Library, ITN, Stop43, Image Source, the Royal Photographic Society and many others.

“The reason why all these organisations came together is because these proposals to change the UK’s copyright law will have a serious adverse impact on everybody in the visual creative industry,” Serena Tierney, head of Intellectual Property at law firm Bircham Dyson Bell, tells BJP. Tierney drafted the briefing paper. “Usually, when there are proposed changes to the law, they have a different impact if you’re a small or a large company. As a result, lawmakers get different sets of responses from the industry.”

In this particular case, however, Tierney says the changes have generated opposition from a wide range of individuals and organisations, all eager to sign up to the briefing paper officially unveiled today. “With this document, we wanted to expose the wide range of creators whose livelihoods will be damaged by the proposed changes. No matter what size you are, whether you’re an individual photographer or [a large archive], if you have archived material, you’re going to be affected in the same way and it will be very damaging,” she tells BJP.

The briefing paper fustigates the government’s plans to make the licensing of Orphan Works easier. “The introduction of Orphan Works provisions and extended collective licensing will serve to reduce the incomes of creators and performers,” the representative organisations warn. “Those hardest hit will be those who typically trade as individuals: photographers, illustrators and performers. These are all creators whose work is especially easy to ‘orphan’ as theirs is often incorporated into the work of others, such as websites, newspapers, periodicals, books, films music recordings and broadcasts.”

The paper continues: “The existence of extended licensing schemes will mean there will be a de facto ‘standard rate’ set by those schemes for the use of particular types of work, and it will be more difficult for individuals to negotiate higher rates where the quality and nature of their work justifies it.”

The 73 organisations have also warned against allowing the government to introduce new exceptions to copyright by using secondary legislation, as proposed in Clause 66 of the bill. “It may not be apparent to the ordinary parliamentarian that this means reducing the scope of copyright protection itself so that the value of copyright to those who earn a living from it will also be reduced [...] The confiscation of property rights of British citizens should not take place without a full public debate and parliamentary scrutiny.”

While Tierney agrees that the country’s copyright laws need to be updated, especially to address the latest technology innovations, she tells BJP that these changes don’t do that. “Parliament needs to take the time required to consider these changes properly. You can’t just push through these proposals without giving sufficient thought to their implications. These changes will deprive UK creators of their property rights – and that’s without taking into account the impact on foreign rights owners.”

As US-based organisations argued last year, the changes would legalise the use of foreign works without the knowledge and permission of the copyright owners,  jeopardising 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 works in the UK will drastically devalue the works throughout their copyright life.”

If the use of foreign works in the UK is “directly or indirectly permitted by this bill, a firestorm of international litigation is predicted”, said the US-based organisations, which have since been backed by other representative institutions in Europe.

Writing for BJP, Paul Ellis of the organisation Stop 43 has called on the government to allow the Copyright Hub to offer a solution to the Orphan Works problem. The Copyright Hub is an overarching rights registry for digital media, linking together existing and future Digital Copyright Exchanges such as Amazon, Getty Images, Alamy and the iTunes Store, among many others. “The Hub is intended to make finding the rights-holders of copyright works much easier, quicker and cheaper than at present, and to make the licensing process itself easier and quicker by reducing the difficulties and costs associated with it. The Hub will not set licence fees itself: they will be arrived at freely, in the normal way, by market forces. The result should be increased trading in existing and new digital rights and a reduction in copyright infringement, both of which should generate economic growth.”

The Copyright Hub, says Ellis, is an industry-led, market-based licensing solution to most of the problems that copyright exceptions, Orphan Works and Extended Collective Licensing are purported to solve, has support across the creative industries, and will be functional within months.”

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill is currently being debated in committee stage in the House of Lords, with the next meeting scheduled for 16 January at 3.45pmBJP will be in attendance.

UPDATE (15 January 2013): Tate, which was originally listed as one of the briefing’s backers, has asked BJP for its name to be removed from the list. “We shouldn’t have been included in the list,” says a press officer. “It’s not our position.” BJP has asked Tate for its updated position on the proposed copyright changes.