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Photographers find support in House of Lords in copyright fight

Photographers have received the support of an outspoken House of Lords member as the government continues to push through its controversial copyright reforms

In a heartfelt speech, crossbench party member Lord Greenway vocalised the worst fears of photographers and picture agencies – that changes to copyright law would jeopardise their livelihoods and rights.

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Speaking earlier this week in response to discussions about the licensing and usage of Orphan Works for commercial and non-commercial purposes, Lord Greenway explained he had once worked as a photographer and as a result has an archive of photographs, both his own and those he has acquired. “In effect, I have what could be termed a small photo library,” he said. “I am concerned about this measure because copyright is, and always has been, a minefield. To my mind, what we are doing here risks making it even more of a minefield. What will be the position for the large number of photo libraries, which, after all, make their living from selling reproduction rights for photographs? There is a risk that if the Bill goes through as it stands, some of them could go out of business.”

Lord Clement-Jones, Liberal Democrat Peer and spokesman for Culture, Media and Sport in the House of Lords, said: “I think it very telling that the noble Lord – Lord Greenway – raised the concerns of photographers. That is really at the heart of much of the objection to the proposals for the Orphan Works legislation.”

He added: “There is considerable concern, and it is not a question of polarising the debate but recognising the concerns underlying these Orphan Works proposals, which are held by substantial numbers of creators and rights holders,” although he admitted that Orphan Works “could be usefully employed, constrained within the right limits.”

During the five-hour hearing, which took place on 28 January, members of the Grand Committee discussed proposals relating to changes in existing copyright laws, the licensing of Orphan Works and collective licensing. These and other amendments are part of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill sponsored by Vince Cable and Lord Marland of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

As has been reported by BJP in recent weeks, the provisions have been met with grave concern from photographers, picture libraries and news agencies from around the world. Most recently BJP reported on how members of the photography industry united to show mass opposition to government copyright changes.

The general consensus of the committee on 28 January was that changes to UK copyright law were long overdue, with several lords addressing the need to find a way of “balancing” creators’ rights with the need to allow users access to creative content. As one Lord put it, there is “a need to adjust to the realities of the digital world”, while another commented that it was necessary to “bring the copyright framework up-to-date”.

Opinion on Orphan Works licensing was mixed across the committee, with some Lords acknowledging photographers’ concerns by admitting that the Bill could endanger their rights. But others said rights owners had “nothing to fear”.

Business minister Lord Younger said the proposals are about “opening up the commercial and economic potential of Orphan Works”, but mentioned the need for additional safeguards, namely that the required diligent search be verified by an independent authorising body.

Lord Clement-Jones acknowledged industry concerns directly: “Great concerns have been expressed, not only by photographers but by a whole range of others, such as AP, British Pathé, Getty Images, ITN, the Press Association and Thomson Reuters […] the provisions in the clause are premature and should not be introduced in the Bill.”

Much of the afternoon’s discussions centred around issues to do with metadata; for example, its removal by automated processes, which creates new Orphan Works. “The question of photography and photographers is not yet well resolved,” said Lord Stevenson. “In particular, the metadata problem affects photographers more than anyone else, and we have to be very sensible about that.”

As an example, he referred to a correspondence he had received from the photographer Leon Neal: “He [Neal] wonders whether the government have in mind giving the Copyright Hub a chance to get going to see whether it has a solution for the particular problems of photographers.” The Copyright Hub is an industry-led, market-based rights registry for digital media, intended to safeguard and monitor the process of finding the rights holders of copyright works. The Copyright Hub in expected to be operational from late 2013, while the controversial copyright changes proposed by the government would, if approved, be effective once it receives Royal Assent.