Monday, 25 October 2010

The known and the unknown - keywording for visibility

Why is everyone talking about keywording? People in the image industry are scratching their heads about ways to keyword their images. Now the web is buzzing with visual material, words need to be deployed intelligently to ensure images can be found by the people who need them.

Technology offers other ways of finding images, you may say, which don't require so much human input. Visual recognition techniques do offer clever ways to look for images, but computers can only learn from the way humans keyword the images in the first place, and they are not very clever at understanding abstract concepts. How do you explain to a computer all the different ways of expressing the idea of freedom, for example? Can love only be expressed by the shape of a heart, or a smile between two people? Human interpretation is still needed, and computers are still taking baby steps at recognising 'things in the picture' like trees and tables, never mind the more abstract and subtle signifiers found in visual material. So what we are looking at, for some time to come, is human tagging of images to make them findable.

The problem anyone keywording images faces is this. Language is a wonderful, expressive tool for communication, there are many ways to say the same thing, and words often have more than one meaning. The word I use to tag my image may not the the one used by the person searching for it. They may use the plural where I used the singular. They may use a different spelling, or different versions of a language like American and UK English. And then there are the requirements of multi language searches.

Any good tagging system needs to scoop up all the variations of a word so that whatever word the searcher uses, they will find their way to the image. Words need to be uniquely defined, so you can tell the difference, for example, between orange the colour, and orange, the fruit. There may be broader terms than the one you first thought of which may be useful, so your image of a train should also appear under a search for transport.

The way to achieve consistency, and to scoop up all the appropriate terms, is to create a controlled vocabulary. With a set of preferred terms, and their synonyms, the vocabulary is usually structured in hierarchical way to include broader and narrower terms. Vocabularies for use with images vocabularies have been informed by work done on text search in the library sector, but they have developed further to include concepts specific to visual material. One of the big advantages is that properly controlled vocabularies can be translated - just once- so that searches can be made in different languages.

Can a single vocabulary describe the entire world, the universe, and everything in it? Yes, if it has top level terms broad enough to cover everything, a logical structure, and sufficient depth to reach down to a granular level.

How does it help in practice? The vocabulary is embedded in the software both at the keyboarding and the search stage, creating automatic links between words and effectively automating much of the keyboarding effort. The keyboarding operative, with a well designed CV and good software can concentrate on interpreting the image for the user audience. Thats the part the machine can't do.

People in the stock image industry have been working on this for decades, and have come up with some pretty good systems for keyboarding, led by teams in large agencies like Getty and Corbis. Now it's time for everyone else to sign up for productive and accurate keywording, learning, where possible, from experience already gained in the industry on keyboarding and customer behaviour. The benefits will be felt not only by smaller picture agencies and photographers, but also in the wider world. Imagery is playing an ever greater part in company DAM systems, where the level and quality of retrieval makes sense of investment in this area. A picture may be worth 1000 words, but without words, a picture may be lost forever.

At Electric Lane we have been increasingly involved in creating vocabularies for image collections. We are also working with the standards body IPTC on a project to create a standard vocabulary to help collections of all sizes raise their keywording standards and make their data more interoperable.

We are offering a one day course, Keywording, on December 7 in London, run by Electric Lane Associate Liisa Kaakinen, a stock image industry keywording and controlled vocabulary expert. The course covers professional keywording techniques and the vocabularies that lie behind them, applied to still and moving images. For those wondering what to do about keywording, this session provides an essential step to understanding the process, the gains, the resources needed, and how to maximise productivity.

For further enquiries about course content contact, tel 020 7607 1415.

See also
Is Language a moving target
Multilingual Keywording
IPTC Mirror on IPTC Controlled Vocabulary Initiative
Google is not Perfect, Fran Alexander

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The Semantic Web, Linked Data, and Knowledge Organisation

It's a journey of possibilities, the semantic web, and its one we're all engaged in in one form or another. I've been eyeing up the topic for some time, and the third UK ISKO Conference gave me the push I needed to look deeper into what the semantic web and linked data hold for the future.
Last time I was at the ISKO conference, in 2008, many of us there were baffled by the possibilities of linked data. If all this data was to be linked on the web, who would put it out there? Who would put the money up to produce the data? This year, answers to some of those questions emerged. It would appear that linked data is at the point of lift-off, and it's already being used in ways we can now understand.

I start by looking at some of the ideas behind linked data, and then follow the presentations at the conference, all of which clarified some aspect of the subject and gave us a glimpse of how it can benefit 'the rest of us', the users.

The Significance of Linked Data

Linked Data is part of the Semantic Web, and for those wondering exactly what that is, here's a quick explanation. Semantic Web is the term used to describe a Web environment in which the meaning (or semantics) of information is made explicit and therefore machine readable. Our brains can handle very complex information. When we say we want an apple, we can work out from the circumstances that we want the eating type of apple, not the company Apple or the Big Apple, or an Apple computer. Machines need much more explicit instructions to contextualise the exact meaning of a word. We know that by building up a series of simple instructions, starting with the basic 0 or 1 choice, computers can perform very complex tasks. The Semantic Web, a term coined by Tim Berners-Lee the creator of the World Wide Web, describes an environment in which information can be accessed and processed automatically in an intelligent way. Linked data makes sense of the Semantic Web by providing a framework for a network of related information.

We are accustomed to the idea of HTLM documents located at URL's (Universal Resource Locators) and linked together by hyperlinks. In the same way smaller bits of information can be assigned URI's (Universal Resource Identifiers), and these bits of data can be linked using RDF technologies. So we can take the idea of 'Cat' and assign it a URI. We can give another URI to a particular cat, say Dick Whittington's cat. Then we can link the two to increase the amount of information available.

To link data in the public sphere, it has to be freely available on the web. The idea of releasing stuff for free is becoming more accepted with even parts of the creative industries starting to looking for new ways to make money in an environment where the market price of media increasingly parts company from the cost of creating it.

Services may come to be the new currency. If you share data wisely, you can attract value to your company and its services, increase the traffic to your web site and gain an element of trust which is working capital of a sort. By releasing data for free you can signpost things you can place a pound sign next to.

The linked data community is part of the open source community and while many of us working in media have been struggling with the recession and changes to our industries, there has been a quiet shifting of the scenery in the background.

The information revolution is being powered by new ideas and by the growth in mobile technology. People are already buying and using Apps to entertain, inform, and to find their way around the world. A steady stream of up to date information plays an essential role . The processing of that data into useful formats and apps will spawn the businesses of the future.

Share the data and the apps will follow
The keynote speech at the conference was made by Professor Nigel Shadbolt, from University of Southampton, Director of the Web Science Trust, and the Web Foundation. Together with inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, he was a key figure behind, a UK Government project set up in 2009 to make official data available on the internet for anyone to re-use. The thrust of his presentation was that once data is out on the Web, other people can do things with it, and this opens up opportunities of benefit to both individual citizens and to the businesses who create new services using the data. Publish the data, said Shadbolt, and the applications will flow.

The British Government has more that 4,000 datasets, and the aim is to make much of this data public. Already on the site there are apps using data previously locked away in government departments. One example is the data on cycle accident location. Once that data is pubic, applications can be created to help cyclists avoid the accident blackspots. By sharing data, Professor Shadbolt said, you can bring eyeballs and brainpower to a problem.

The public can do little with endless sheets of raw data, but data can be transformed into useful applications, and that's the basis for a new kind of business . In a world of iphone apps and mobile media, that information can be just what you need when you're looking for a bustop or running for a train, or finding the nearest dentist, once it's make accessible.

More data is now being made available. Postcode data was once copyrighted but is now freely available. From January 2010 every local council has to publish all spending over £500. There is a new appetite for open data. Public data provides ways of holding public services to account, and Professor Shadbolt's view is that it should be published quickly, and it should be linked.

Government departments can profit internally from linked data as well, he said, gaining better access to their own data and making better sense of related data from other departments.

He sees linked data leading to more accountability, more localism, more arguments. But how do we know we can trust the data and the interpretation of it? Shadbolt thinks there will be a flight to quality. Perhaps there will be a sifting process similar to that on the internet where some data sets are more highly regarded than others.

A language for linking
Antoine Isaac is scientific coordinator for Europeana and researcher at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He works with Semantic Web technology in the cultural heritage environment, focussing on interoperability of collections and their vocabularies. He was involved in the design of SKOS (Simple Knowledge Organisation System) the language designed to represent structured vocabularies (thesauri, taxonomies and classification schemes) so they can be used in the Semantic Web environment.

Isaac gave an overview of SKOS, which is expressed in RDF and enables linking between Knowledge Organisation Systems (KOS). SKOS, he said, presents a way of expressing structured information so that connections can be made between different knowledge systems like vocabularies and taxonomies. Unlike OWL, the language for expressing ontologies (which are generally held to be more complex broader taxonomies with more formal relationships between terms), SKOS is designed, as its name implies, to be easier to use and less manpower resource hungry than OWL.

RDF (Resource Description Framework) is a way of making statements about resources (particularly on the web). These statements are in the form: Subject (John); Predicate (has the age); Object (20 years). This is what is called a triple.

SKOS is a form of glue which allows different classification systems to be linked in the Semantic Web environment. The benefits are the re-use and sharing of information and the linking of concepts.

Isaac described the steps to take: put your data on the web; make it available as structured data; use open standard formats (XML, RDF); useURI's to locate the data; link it to other data.

Evangelising Linked Data
Richard Wallis has been with technology company Talis for 20 years and calls himself a Technology Evangelist. Talis started in the library sphere based at the University of Birmingham 40 years ago and is now one of the leading Semantic Web Technology companies.

Talis offers training and applications of linked data for a variety of commercial and governmental bodies and is involved in Linked data is being used by Walmart, Tesco, The Library of Congress, the BBC, The Ministry of Defence and many others. Talis helped the BBC to link its own data to other sources of data on the Web. The BBC Wildlife site for example links to background information DBPedia, the linked form of Wikipedia.

One of the opportunities in using linked data is to create mashups, which are ways of combining data from a number of sources to create a new service or resource. Talis has a good example of mashups on its web site, where Guardian data about politicians was linked to BBC data about programming. The result was a timeline showing the exposure of individual politicians in the Guardian and on the BBC on different dates. This could be extended to other sources to create a very rich view of politicians' media exposure, demonstrating the opportunities for presenting and interpreting data once it's out there.

Connecting Communities
Steve Dale calls himself a community and collaboration ecologist. He blends technology solutions with an understanding of how people can be encouraged to organise and collaborate creatively in a sustainable knowledge ecosystem. He led the project to create a community of practice platform for the UK local government sector.

Data is everywhere, he said, and people are faced with the question of where to go for information, which networks to join, in an environment where there is almost no connectivity, and data is hidden behind applications.

Local government is awash with data, but is it being used to it's full extent? How for example do you compare performance with other areas? What is the relationship between national indicators? Dale charted the Knowledge Hub which should create the links to provide the answers. Integral parts of this Hub are data mark up and search facilities, data integration and aggregation, forms based data entry for benchmark comparisons, public datasets, mashups , and Apps. Data attracts value from contributions by other data producers as well as technical and user communities.

It's a big change, he said and its about open architecture, open source, open everything. Addressing the issue of reliability - how do you know if the interpretation of the data is correct or whether it is misleading- he agreed that this will be one of the pain points going forward, responding to the point raised that data is collected in different ways by different local authorities. Maybe the fact that the public is testing the data through available apps will do something to increase public awareness of the dangers in data interpretation. As Dale said, perhaps tomorrow will be a statisticians world.

Finding partners in trade
Martin Hepp is professor of general management and e-Business at Universitat der Bundeswehr in Munich. He looked at the costs in GDP terms of keeping commercial markets alive, citing a 1920 list of just over 5000 types of goods, compared to the current market environment where its easy to count just 30 types of bread alone. Finding partners to trade with is what drives business, he said, and the search space expands constantly. To find a specific item is the aim of the game, and the internet makes searches easier, but we still spend a lot of time every day looking for things. The world wide web, he said, is currently like a giant shredder, ingesting structured data and spewing it out as unstructured text, destroying or shredding information we had at the outset. What we need is to retain data structure, link data elements by meaning and reduce the look-up effort required.

Hepp says the quality of vocabularies will define how easily data can be re-used. Taxonomists everywhere can rejoice. Their calling in not only not going out of style, it is becoming becomes ever more relevant.

For the last 8 - 10 years, Hepp has been working on a web ontology for e commerce called Good Relations. Data levels need to be sufficient, he said, for rule based transformation. For example, the product needs to be distinguished from the offer, the store from the business entity, the product from the product model. If you are buying a car, the product data may be registration date, condition, mileage etc. A different set of information, can be extracted from standard model data. Major businesses have seen the opportunities and have implemented the vocabulary, which has the immediate effect of raising their google rating.

Dublin Core and Semantic Relativism
Andy Powell is Research Programme Director at Eduserv and has been active in the Dublin Core initiative since 1996, where he is now a member of the advisory board. He is active in standards activities relating to RDF, Dublin Core and other digital library projects.

He reviewed the history of Dublin Core, which started with 15 original metadata elements to describe web resources. Now there are around 60 properties and classes in a well curated vocabulary. Dublin Core started labeling with html metatags, which were later ignored because of Spam. It started with broad semantics, and 15 'fuzzy' buckets for data which were a hangover from library catalogue cards, and it was a record-centric model.

The challenge then was to change to the idea of strings of data, using RDF to express relationships. The open world view needs to be sold in, and there's the problem of URI's. Should a URI be a locator of a web page or an ID? For those of us struggling to understand the question, Powell introduced us to a useful Batman blog by Chris Gutteridge at Southampton University on the subject of modeling the world. When creating vocabularies we face the question of how to describe the entire world in unambiguous terms.This is amplified when you look at ontogologies on the web and the use of URI's to identify bits of data. See the blog for a tour into madness and back.

The conclusion? As ever, it points to the fact that we can only find approximate answers to questions. The web gives us the ability to approach things from a number of different angles to gain information. There's no point obsessing about absolute accuracy, as you are in danger of descending onto a Kafkaesque universe from which there is no point of exit. Enough said.

Ordnance Survey hits the streets
John Goodwin who works in the research department at Ordnance Survey (OS) was tasked with looking into the Semantic Web and its implications for OS. He started by constructing ontologies in the ontology language OWL to describe OS data, and is now responsible for linked data published by OS.

A number of natural hubs are starting to form in the linked data universe, and geographical terms are among them. (see this 2010 linked data diagram and compare it to this one from 2008).

OS is at the forefront of the geospatial linked data web, providing a trusted source for developers. Goodwin highlighted some of the problems and confusions with geo data. An area such as Hampshire can be represented as an administration area, or a county as used in the vernacular. Boundary lines can change for administration purposes while general usage of a geo term remains the same. There are issues around overlapping boundaries, touching boundaries and partial overlaps. It's hard to uniquely define an area, as anyone involved in geo term taxonomies will tell you.

The result of work done at the OS is that now you can not only find a map of anywhere in the UK on the OS site, but also, those interested in creating other applications can access OS linked data to work with.

Managing thesauri without knowing anything about Semantic Web
Andreas Blumauer is founder of Semantic Web Company, which focuses on technology consulting, the media economy and metadata management. He described the stage we desire, where the technical people have done their job, they give us a user interface, and the user has no need to look under the bonnet.

Blumauer gave us a quote from Dr Chris Welty ' It is not semantic which is new, it is the web that is new'.

He sees SKOS as having just the right level of complexity, and the ability to introduce Web 2.0 mechanisms to the web of data. Web 2.0 refers to changes in the way developers write applications for the web, enabling users to share, collaborate, and create content.

Blumauer characterised SKOS as a hand adding and retrieving linked data to and from the Cloud. The way his company's thesaurus management software Poolparty adds and retrieves data from the linked data web environment is shown in this Poolparty demo. The advantages to business are reduced costs of content management, increased automation of data handling, better search engine optimisation and access to new services and mashups (new applications made using data from a variety of sources).

Everything is a thing!
Bernard Vatant is an expert in data modeling, migration and interoperability of vocabularies. He has worked with the Publications Office of the European Union (EUROVOC vocabulary) and French National Library on the on the evolution and integration of RAMEAU for the Europeana project.

Vanant said that everything can be represented as a sign. People, products, devices, places, and concepts from vocabularies can be represented and connected. Everything, in other words, is a thing. He spoke about the semiotic triangle of meaning . He highlighted the differences between terms, concepts, and things and said they should all be first class citizens of the Semantic Web. His presentation contains rich thoughts on semantics and their use, and can be found here.

Go and play
There is something forfor all of us here. I hope you will all go out and play, look at some of the links on web sites like the BBC, or look out for apps using the data that's been made available.

It will all soon be second nature so we wont have to ask what SKOS is, or what a URI represents. Remember the Web when we thought it was just a way of skiving off to surf?


ISKO Blogspot The conference encapsulated for SKOS by Fran Alxander
Government apps list
Talis Nodalites blog with musings on linked data and Pavlova and many other things
The Basics of Linked Data Tim Berners Lee - from the horse's mouth
Jenis musings Why linked Data for Government?

Friday, 21 May 2010

Metadata and the Future of News

IPTC Business Meets Technology day Paris, April 2010

The IPTC evolved to represent the needs of the news business, and much of the Spring Conference this year revolved around the adoption of the IPTC's G2 standards for the news industry. The IPTC's Photometadata Working Group focusing on visual content, has responded to the needs of the photographic industry to make image search more focussed. The Controlled Vocabulary project was presented at the conference for the first time.

G2, which provides an XML-based standard for the exchange of news items, is well supported by large agencies, despite the fact that some of their customers are working with old systems and are not ready to change.

The news industry is looking to a future where news gathering is networked and syndicated, where news items are linked across media, and where outlets for news include mobile phones, social networking sites, and more personalised news delivery.

New business models involve aggregating content across publishers in the same way agencies aggregate content from their suppliers. Planning is needed to fund inter-organisational processes. The supplies within a network can then focus on their core business.

The networking and syndicating of news require interoperable metadata. There is a growing realisation that some sources of data, for example on events or on personalities and entities, are best shared. In the new world it is argued, it is pointless for everyone to gather the same data. This is where linked data comes in.

Fran Alexander
from the BBC highlighted the need for different sets of metadata in different stages of the workflow and in different departments of a large organisation like the BBC. Rather than insisting on standardisation across the organisation, she believes that mapping techniques produce better results, with standards risiing as departments increasingly work together.
The Linked Data community, which has emerged from the ideas around the Semantic Web, promotes the idea of sources of data scattered throughout the web, with unique string addresses on the web called uri's. These web addresses can link to other uri'’s to expand the available information on a subject or entity.

The principle is that by linking data sets on the web, the requirement to reproduce the same work of data gathering is reduced, and more data becomes available by a process of organic growth.

The uri's are simply web addresses for lists of information about an entity (a person, an organisation, a building, anything that has a name and is unique.) That information could include details of date of birth, height, weight, schooling, job history, any facts which can (or could theoretically) be checked.

Someone searching for information about Barack Obama for example, might find information on his first job after college which may reveal other facts about him which are of interest
UK company Talis demonstrated their own platform which is designed to build linked data. The Talis architecture is used by Government departments and other clients to pull together and link sources of information scattered around the country.

Talis suggested that the IPTC could be an ideal linking hub holding trusted data which can be linked to other uri's and other hubs on the web.

The Okkam Project is a European funded project which has already assigned 7.5 million unique identities for entities and has created 16 applications for their use. Okkam is running a pilot project with news agency ANSA, which allows the agency to create an enriched newsfeed using News ML standards, which can hold links to other sources of information. Okkam works on the principle of a 14 th century philosopher who said we should not' multipy entities beyond necessity.'

The Okkam system is designed to be an open neutral system, which will be run b y the Okkam Trust once the EU project is over. The Trust would be funded by money from commercial applications developed by the project, and is keen for stakeholders like the IPTC to join the board of the Trust.

Okkam aims to fix reference names for entities, but recognises it is not the only company to do so. The aim is to create permanent identifiers, which is where it differs from projects like Open Calais, which is about entity extraction.

Underlying all this are considerations about the trustworthiness of data sets. The web site finds entities which are supposedly the same, but not all the results are seen as sound. How rigorous the test for sameness will depend on its use.

The IPTC Photometadata Group Controlled vocabulary project was presented by Sarah Saunders from Electric Lane, who discussed the ambiguities inherent in keyword searches for images, and demonstrated the use of keyword predicates, a new feature of the proposed controlled vocabulary, which helps to reduce ambiguities. An example is the word orange, which can be used as a descriptive word, or as an object word. The word Paris can be used to describe the location of an image, a person (Paris Hilton) or a view of Paris.

The new IPTC keyword predicates will separate the differing uses of a word, and avoid unwanted search results. The draft vocabulary and the ideas behind it will be presented at the Photometadata Conference in Dublin in June.

More information from the Spring Conference in the IPTC Mirror.
Sarah Saunders
April 2010

Monday, 10 May 2010

The Rocky Road to Automation

Most of us, one way or another, are in the grip of the recession. How soon things will improve is anyone's guess, but at my end the freezing up of client budgets has given me time to assess how my own business is run.

Productivity has always been the name of our game, the goal we set for the consultancy and training we do for clients. Many businesses have been happy in the past to continue with their own tried and tested workflows. Change is not always easy to sell into a business. But the recession and changes in the picture industry have raised the stakes. Which of us is going to be around when money starts to flow again? My bet is on those who have taken the time to review their workflow and improve their productivity. Now, more than ever, companies need to assess the way they use technology to speed up business processes.

Years ago, people in image libraries joked about digital, and dreamt of lying on a beach somewhere while the agency ran itself. Instead, they found a whole new set of issues to address, new skills to learn.Taking care of a digital image collection is, if anything, a more time consuming business than filing transparencies in a filing drawer and relying on the human brain to remember what was where. But business moves on. Older brains get tired and over full, younger ones move on to other companies. And the needs of a global market are of a different order, and only satisfied by a digital response.

It's happened. Image collections are now shown digitally, and collections are either digitised or on the - sometimes long - slog to get there. But are the digital collections making best use of the technology they have at their disposal?

With budget, a large company can put together an all-singing-all-dancing DAM system with a number of workflow aids to increase automation and reduce production costs. At enterprise level there are plenty of companies willing to push their product to do what you want, if you pay for it. The problem may be that people aren't aware of the specialist needs of the picture industry, so sometimes large systems are less than perfect in that respect. At the other end of the scale, companies with more specialist needs and smaller budgets also need productivity. The search for automated workflow functions is worth looking at for businesses of any size.

Take my business as a small example. Like most people, I have too much to do. It's our way of life. And like most, I like to stick to the technology I know. Picking up new systems is time consuming, and it does your head in. It sometimes feels like a waste of time fiddling with obscure software functions dreamt up by techies whose whose brains appear to be differently wired. But in my case I found it was worth the pain.

I had found my marketing efforts dogged by chaos on both my physical and computer desktop. There were bits of information all over the place, which my current contact database couldn't cope with. I had tried paper lists, excel sheets, tabbed files and folders, and all kinds of plastic pockets, and all I had was a headache. Everything was taking too long.

Now I had someone to help me do my marketing (the very excellent outsourced company Tailored Time) it was doubly imperative to get smart. They suggested I look at an online system ZOHO, which is free for up to 3 users. I spent a few mornings struggling to get to grips with the system. A strategic call to Tailored Time when I felt like to ditching the project and going back to pen and notebook helped me stay on track. I imported some contacts and got on with some real work using the online database. It was like having someone else in the office!

I feel vaguely smug about this. Practice what you preach they say, and I like many others often find myself lacking in that department. (Have you ever tried to get a decent headshot of a photographer?) How can someone who helps other people organise their images systematically have their own affairs in such disarray? Easy. We're all as human as each other, and if you're in the business of helping people do things, you'd better know how hard it is to change habits, especially when it involves technology. What people need is a helping hand, someone to say it's going to be fine, it works, stick with it. That's what working together means in the mean high tech world we live in, and that's what consultancy is all about.

Back to automation. Some systems are simply too big and too wide ranging for people to grasp (or to pay for). So many people find themselves tacking together a workflow from a number of different components, and it can be the most productive route in some cases. The show has to go on, after all. When people ask me if they should get an image DAM system that does everything from raw files through to production and archiving (and there's another blog brewing there) I ask them to be cautious. Look at your workflow, I say, and your budget, and the different people who will be involved. Look at what you can reasonably learn and install and support. It may be easier to keep some elements of your workflow and target resources on just a part of it. Some parts of your workflow will benefit from specialist attention. The image archiving and sales database is one of those discreet elements that can save you a lot of time and money and do a very targeted job for you, perhaps in combination with a larger CMS (Content Management System) for the entire organisation. But even here, you may find that your image database and workflow software lacks some essential components that could save you time and money.

Write once, use many times is one of the mottos for a good workflow. It makes sense in the computer age, where anything entered anywhere can be seamlessly copied to somewhere else. Why do it again?

In practice, technology lags behind some of the standards that make this interoperability possible. Look at XML and the XMP format created by Adobe to deal with image metadata. The formats are there, the IPTC has worked to create standard fields to hold the information, and full automation is possible. But those of us helping create standards ( I work on the IPTC Photometadata Working Group) know that to a certain extent we are working with today's aspirations and tomorrow's workflow, today's clunky software and tomorrow's automation. The passage of data from one end to the other of the workflow is littered with obstacles, placed there by (let's be kind) not quite updated software.

That aside, the next principle of a good image workflow is that it should be clear what is expected at each stage in terms of the delivered product. The photographer, you might think, should deliver a colour correct image in a standard format, that can be passed on through the workflow and through to print or web output to produce a good result without without tripping up production systems. There should be a some metadata in the image as well (at least the 3 C's, caption, credit, copyright and picture number). We have spent years trying to get this message over to the receiving clients, image libraries and publishers. You are the client, we said, you should define what you want the photographer to supply. The reality is that both clients and photographers have been operating within a digital skills chasm. Things have improved, but we far too often hear that image libraries are using their resources to check and put right what photographers have failed to deliver. Whichever way you look at it, this is not a function that libraries (and publishers) can afford to carry in current circumstances.

This is why we set about creating a Photoshop plug-in, called ImageVisa, to fit the principles of a productive workflow. One, it gets the client to set the technical and metadata standards for the images arriving at their picture desk; two, it checks that the images supplied comply; three it can correct some things automatically before the image reaches the client; and four, it helps the supplying photographer to get things right by making his or her workflow more productive. Box ticking or what?

In an ideal world, these functions would be provided by the client's receiving software. But in practice most image software at the moment doesn't have that facility (Capture's Greenlight does a very fast check at the receiving end, but doesn't do corrections.)

ImageVisa is a bridge over the skills chasm, between different sets of software, and between the past and the future. It may help plug a gap in the workflow of hard pressed image libraries and publishers, especially those keen to reduce costs and limber up for the future. It could be the other person in the office I was talking about. Simple, focussed, does the job.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Half century of Rex - the history

As Rex is becoming part of Getty, perhaps it's a good time to revisit what I wrote in 2004 and reflect on what's happening in the photo industry today. Then, we were remarking about the film lab going quiet. And the fact that even then it was one of the last independent press agencies......

'Other people just had piles of boxes'– Rex in 2004

Rex Features is the largest independent photographic press agency in the UK and one of the few of its kind left in the world. Founded by Frank and Elizabeth Selby in 1954, Rex has weathered an economic climate which has been especially tough for news agencies, doing so without any obvious damage and with all its old values intact. How do they do it?

Ask Frank and Elizabeth Selby about who does what at Rex and their replies are too complicated to write down. In the end, it seems, everyone does a bit of everything. It’s a family business still, despite the fact that Rex has grown from a two-person business in Frank and Elizabeth’s front room, to a company with 70 staff in the UK and outposts in New York and LA.

Rex’s output is prodigious – an average of 1200 new images are added to the online database every day and last year 450,000 news and celebrity pictures and 85,000 stock pictures were sold. For Rex is not just a news and celebrity agency, though that is how many people have seen it in the past- and the company is making efforts to let its customers know about the vast range of material contained in the 15 million images they have on file, one million of which are now on-line. Currently around 80% of sales are news and celebrity, while 20% are stock. The number of stock sales is growing all the time.

Elizabeth and Frank Selby are both from journalistic backgrounds, and both of Hungarian origin. They came to England in the thirties: Elizabeth was at school until 1942, when she left “ because I became disillusioned with it” and worked with her father, who had been a prominent journalist for the German- speaking press before the war; Frank, son of the editor- in-chief of Hungary’s leading newspaper group, worked in photography for six months before the war and volunteered for the British Army when war broke out. They married in 1948.

The roots of the agency are more in features than in news, and hence the name. The agency was set up when a Hungarian friend in France needed representation in the UK. The pictures – then all black and white prints – were distributed from the Selbys’ front room for the next nine years. They were kept in 10x8 photographic paper boxes. Most of the original pictures at the outset were Paris fashions, other suppliers joined later to contribute news material, and Rex started to represent stock agency Devaney (now Superstock) in 1954. In-house production included a creative relationship with British photographer Ron Spillman and Canadian journalist Jack Ramsay who were famous for their set-up funny animal sequences, involving chicks, ducklings, kittens and mice.

In the early days, Rex made sales and gained customers through their speedy distribution of original prints of hot news events, which were of much better quality than the blurred wire pictures of the time. The prints were taken round to Fleet Street newspapers in a leather bag: Frank Selby was ‘the original bag man’. Elizabeth meanwhile ran the office and the growing library.

As the company grew, the library came into its own, as a result of an efficient filing system. The newspapers, which had their own libraries but were often unable to find their own pictures when needed, came to rely on Rex.

“ We taught staff to find images” says Elizabeth. “I was insistent on cross referencing. Other people just had piles of boxes, but we had filing cabinets. Customers knew we could find the pictures, where other people couldn’t”

When John Selby joined the business in 1976, he brought new ideas to the business and started colour duplication. In 1979, after a serious fire at their premises in East Harding St, Rex moved to its current location in Vine Hill.

Now the business started to take off. Organisation has always been a key element of Rex’s success – distribution of material after a major news event is
planned in meticulous detail, and executed with ruthless efficiency, with all hands on board. Diana’s wedding in 1981 put Rex on the map with large numbers of dupes captioned and mounted against the clock, in time for the newspaper deadlines. Frank recalls that just one minute was allowed per film to select images for duping.

Nowadays nearly all new material coming into the company is digital. The film lab has gone quiet and so have the telephones, which use to buzz with the 3-4000 requests for pictures every month. Now, it’s the web site which is busy, with an average of 2750 downloads every day. Rex still lays great emphasis on personal service though, and is always there to help researchers find what they want.

It’s the way Rex does business which as part of the attraction to customers and suppliers alike. In the old days major deals were done on a handshake. The first big contract was with Woman’s Own for pictures of Frank Sinatra’s 50th birthday. As Frank recalls, “ There was no signature, we shook hands and that was that.” With Weekend Magazine, he says, “ We always did business in the pub. That was where you could usually find the editor, Alex Merritt; but he always remembered what we agreed.” The Selbys cannot recall any conflicts over deals, and the company has an impeccable reputation for honesty. Picture editors knew Rex would stick by their word, and contributors knew they would get their money even before the agency was paid. Sadly, the huge number of late-paying clients mean that nowadays the photographers have to wait until Rex has collected…..

In an era where big business has moved into the picture business, Rex Features has a remarkable resilience. From time to time, says Director Martin Hillier, people ring up and ask “ What is it Rex is doing that we’re not doing?” But, as Elizabeth points out “ It wasn’t a business we set up; it was our metier, our way of life, and everyone got involved in the same spirit.”

The company is run “ with a conscience” and has paid dearly for some decisions of principle, but nevertheless there is a steely backbone to the way Rex is run which is perhaps something do with fact that it is a family business – in the broadest sense. At least 10 staff have been with the company for twenty years or more – the longest has been with Rex for thirty five years. Allan Day, the UK Sales Director, recently retired after 36 years. The company is run on teamwork, with Elizabeth and Frank still very much at the helm despite their age; they are a very sprightly seventy-nine and eighty-six . With John, Mike, and Sue Selby all very much involved, the family nature of the business looks set to continue.

The change to digital technology has been a big challenge. Rex did not make people redundant as other companies did, they simply retrained their staff to do other tasks such as keywording . Despite the “eery quiet “ in the office, digitisation has brought staff closer to the business, they say, and given them more responsibility. The stock side of the business is being developed so that Rex is becoming a one-stop portal for all kinds of images. What is their biggest challenge now? “ The competition. To stay as we are, respected the way we are, and to live up to it. “ says Elizabeth. “ And for us to stay alive.”

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Debates around the Digital Economy Bill

Most people in the photographic creative industries now know that the contentious part of the Digital Economy Bill was thrown out on April 7 as the bill passed through the commons as part of the ‘wash up’ before the UK general election on 6 May.

The progress of this particular piece of legislation holds lessons for the future. It is good that circumstances, and a strong campaign, caused clause 43 to fall at the eleventh hour. It gives creators and their representative associations time to regroup for what will probably be an extended battle ahead. So lets look at what happened.

For some years the museums have been lobbying for changes in the law to enable them to use the vast numbers of images in their archives for which there is no accreditation. Leaving aside the fact that for many of these items sloppy library procedures will have led to this situation in the first place, we all agree that it would be a good thing for public, educational and non-commercial use of these images to be enabled. It has been raised time and again, as the US tried, and failed, in 2006 and 2008, to force Orphan Works Legislation into law. The obvious solution, creators said, would be to restrict the use of Orphans, under properly controlled conditions, to the non-commercial sphere.

Why is this important? Because, with images circulating in digital form, the digital label can easily come unstuck. The credit and copyright information in the metadata in the image file is still routinely stripped by software, especially when images are placed on the web. So all our images are potential orphans.

The IPO conducted a series of consultations with people working in a number of creative fields, to assess views on the operation of copyright in the digital age. Should copyright operate any differently, we were asked, in a world where digital copies can be easily made and distributed, and where there is an increasing call for resources on the web to be free? Anyone with teenage children will know (if you dare to ask) that it is normal for them to download music for free from the internet. There is a similar problem for the imaging industry, although its licensing systems are quite different from those of other industries.

The view from creators in the visual industries was that the copyright law itself is sound, it is copyright protection mechanisms that need to be improved, and critically, that education about copyright needs resources and attention.

Last December, just before Christmas, we were faced with the first drafting of the Digital Economy Bill, and alarm bells began to ring. Who were the IPO listening to when they drafted a badly formulated and uninformed bill, which swept all creative industries into the same pot? The bill not only introduced provision for Orphan Works licensing, which would be carried out by as yet unspecified organisations approved by the government, it also included a Extended Licensing clause allowing licensing of all works by similarly unspecified organisations. To top it all there were sections of the bill which would allow changes to be made to copyright law without returning to Parliament, to enable the better operation of licensing and commerce. This was a bombshell indeed. Whose interests were represented here?

We were faced with a situation where collecting societies could take control of image licensing without the copyright owner’s knowledge or consent, and where all photographic works could similarly be swept into an ‘ orphaned works’ category and licensed elsewhere.

The problem was the legislation was vague, so people lobbying on behalf of the industry found themselves involved in fiddling with amendments , which while ameliorating the effects of the bill, did not address the central issue, which is the question of who controls the licensing and use of images. Until now, copyright law has given creators this control as a right.

Other industries, the argument might go, rely heavily on collective licensing to collect revenues for their creators. If the music industry does it why should not the photographic industry work in the same way?

The answer to this has been illustrated, in visual form, by the Stop43 Campaign which was created by Editorial Photographers UK in the early months of this year, specifically to stop the clauses on Orphan Works and Extended Licensing. The campaign circulated images which demonstrated what could happen in the brave new world of extended collective licensing. The image of your favourite horse could be used on a can of horse meat, for example. An image of a child could be used in any number of ways, without proper release. How would you feel if an image of your baby was used for an advertising campaign? Extreme examples, yes, but no amount of fiddling with provision will prevent use of images which will harm not just the photographers, but also the subjects of the photograph, if licensing ends up in the wrong hands. It happens now, but how much worse if creators lost control of their work.

The fact is that many photographs have layers of rights protecting not just the photographer, but also rightsholders of works shown in the image, models, trademarks and sometimes buildings. This is where permissions become critical, often for moral as well as for business reasons.

It was pointed out during the campaign that while there are categories of images (current affairs and staff photographers) where there is no right to a credit under current copyright law, it is absurd to contemplate legislation which makes it easier to use these works without reference to the copyright holder.

We know that images in UK publications are often not credited, and that publishers (particularly newspapers) have habitually used images without permission, leaving hard pressed agencies and photographers to spend time and money reviewing publications on a daily basis so they can ask for payment. This is not a climate where we can contemplate the mass orphaning of our works.

Protest against the bill gathered pace in March this year, and many associations aligned behind the Stop 43 Campaign in the later stages. Letters were written to MP’s and in the event the Labour party withdrew the contentious Clause 43, so that it could get all party support for the rest of the bill.

There is broad agreement across the associations representing photographers and their agents (AOP, BAPLA, NUJ, EPUK, RPS, BIPP) that moral rights of the photographer need to be protected in law. They agree that orphan works legislation should be restricted to non-commercial use of images, that licensing of these images need to be carefully controlled, and that metadata should be protected to avoid images becoming orphans in the first place.

Publishers are dead against any increased protection of moral rights, including the right to a credit. The Periodical Publishers Association made a statement last autumn arguing that a right to a credit in law would be unworkable, despite the fact that publishers in other European countries have operated successfully for many years in a legislative situation of much stronger moral rights for creators.

The publishers are a powerful lobbying group. It appears that the government’s ear is selective, and that the photographic industry needs a strong and clear campaign to prevent legislation destroying the basis of our industry.

In the months of debate about the bill differences emerged between creators’ organisations about extended licensing, and whether it should be legislated for, in any form. How much the campaign is about tinkering with legislation that is bound to go through, and how much is about the ability to control events on behalf the image industry, will become an issue the next time round as well. The pressure for Orphan Works legislation will not disappear.

Now there is time to learn from the events of the last months, more more people need to take part in discussions. The photo industry has been evolving and changing for many years to make licensing more streamlined. If the industry wants to prevent the government from taking a controlling hand in how this licensing is conducted, discussion about technological solutions, and the limits of legislative involvement will need to be widely debated.

Sarah Saunders April 2010

Stop 43

Creators Rights Alliance

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Digital Economy Bill - 43 falls!

Yes! The campaign was successful - for now. There has been acceptance by some on all sides of the house that it is lunacy to push through legislation of this kind without due thought for the consequences. The voice of photographers has been heard, even if only in a limited way. That is something we can build on.

What will happen next is for the future, once the election furore has died down. It is not the time for complacency. Remember the reassurances from the IPO, and from some of our associations. All would be well, we were told, our interests would be taken care of. What the throwing out of 43 has highlighted is that we cannot accept deals done behind closed doors. If that's the way politics works, it needs to be challenged. Solutions to the orphan works problem, which needs to be addressed, should be aired and discussed in detail. New image licensing systems need to be scrutinised by everybody, and we need to be wary of any attempts to take control of copyrighted works away from copyright holders.

Opposition to the bill has brought people out of the woodwork. Alliances have been formed, and the issues have been highlighted. I am confident that those who care will regroup to discuss the way forward so that never again are we caught out as we were last autumn, with lobbyists and the government operating in secret, with labrinthine pathways to the future built into an obscure and badly thought out bill.

Frankly now I will be turning my thoughts to the environment and the economy and to the moral compass that seems to be missing. Will any of the parties take up the challenge of new thinking? I don't think so, but now's the time to push them for answers.

In the meantime, let's not forget to work for a workable future in our creative imaging industry.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Digital Economy Bill - Letter to my MP

Here is what I have written to my MP.

"The main areas of concern are that the right of the creator of an artistic work to determine where and how that work should be used has been removed under what is now Clause 43 of the bill.

In our industry we have been aware for some time of the need to free up works currently held in museums and other public bodies. We believe it is right that the public should have access to images for non commercial use under a sound arrangement for handling the ‘orphaned’ works.

But we are also aware that many images currently in circulation, which form the livelihood of photographers and their agencies, may also be scooped into the category ‘orphan’. I am a specialist in metadata – the data which accompanies an image – and I know that it is only in the past couple of years that photographers and agencies have acquired the know how and technology to consistently add data to the digital image file so the copyright information is with the image. We are all aware also that many technologies currently strip that data from the image, leaving them orphaned.

There have been many arguments around this matter, but we know that images in UK publications are often not credited, and that publishers (particularly newspapers) have habitually used images without permission, leaving hard pressed agencies and photographers to spend time and money reviewing publications on a daily basis so they can ask for payment. This is not a climate where we can contemplate the mass orphaning of our works. The freeingup of orphaned works should be restricted to non-commercial uses.

Worse still, the bill proposes that all works should be freed up for collective licensing, which means photographers and their agencies would potentially lose control of how any of their images are used. This is supposed to be a balancing act, enabling easier use of images by publishers. But the dangers of this approach are enormous. Not only would the photographers lose the right to control use of their own work, but so would the models (who may be children), and any organisations or companies portrayed in the image. There are many layers of permission in an image – model rights, other layers of copyright, geographical restrictions, use restrictions and so on. To remove control of these rights from photographers and the agencies they contract to licence their works is to open the doors to a free –for-all that could wreck the basis of the image licensing industry.

The image industry woke up many years ago to the need to make licensing easier for legitimate users. The number of different licensing models is evidence that ease of use for image buyers is a driver for change – sometimes to the detriment of the individual creator. But the photographer has the choice of where to place his or her images, and can make that judgement based on the image, the subject matter, permissions, and the wishes of the photographer.

I am well aware that there is a planned ‘opt out’ clause for this legislation, but I would ask the question why this legislation has been proposed in the first place. How would we feel if laws were passed on other subjects where what we thought were our rights were suddenly subject to an opt out clause.

The laws of copyright, hard fought for, are the bedrock of this creative industry. The UK has a world reputation for creativity in photography., we have more specialist photographic agencies than anywhere else in the world, many of them run by committed photographers in specialist knowledge areas. We contribute enormously to the communications industry. New technology is putting many creators and their agencies under enormous pressure, with changes to working practices happening every day. To allow the conditions for sale of our product to be dictated by organisations appointed by the government, whatever their make-up and origin, would be a retrograde step that could squeeze the creativity out of our industry altogether.

As many have remarked, the complexities in the Digital Economy Bill are such that a wash-up would be insulting to the industries involved. There are sweeping powers in the bill which rely on secondary legislation in what seems to be a most undemocratic way. I am asking you to take account of the concerns of the photographic industry, and to prevent this from happening.

I would like to ask you to vote against the bill in its current form. "

Digital Economy Bill - organisations unite

At last, creators' organisations are pulling together. A new site has been created Stop 43. It has a direct approach - lets stop this bill before it wrecks our industry. The site is supported by EPUK, AOP, Copyright Action, Photographers Agents London, and pro-imaging.

The site visually demonstrates what might happen if the bill is passed (your favourite horse image used on a can of horsemeat), and shows you how to write to your MP.

Go there, do it, don't wait.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Digital Economy Bill - what can we do?

How did we find ourselves in this fix? The Digital Economy Bill is shooting through Parliament in what has been described on the CRA (Creators Rights Alliance) web site as ‘an appallingly rushed process.’

The bill introduces legislation to enable the licensing of orphan works by authorised bodies, and Extended Collective Licensing provision which would give collecting societies the right to license other copyrighted works as well. (See my previous blog)

While amendments have specified that copyright holders will have the right to opt out of these arrangements, the fact remains that control of the use of works will be removed from the rightsholder. The ‘balance’ promoted by the IPO will take rights away from creators in favour of the users of the works (the publishing industry.)

Taken together, these provisions amount to wholesale attack on the right of the creator to decide how his or her works are licensed.

Strange. I remember being involved in the pre-bill consultation last year, and the view from creators’ organisations was that there was nothing wrong with copyright law as such. It was the ability to protect those rights that needed to be improved.

To illustrate what we are up against, here is a quote from Lord Lucas on 8 February during debate in the Lords. "We are coming up against what will prove to be impossible over the next decade or two: maintaining the idea that the copyright owner has control rather than a right to remuneration. I do not see how control stands in the internet age.”

Those of us who are creators or their representatives need to ask ourselves whether we agree with this statement. Do we want to give up control over the way our works are licensed? If there are areas where it is beneficial to creators to look at collective licensing, is the Digital Economy Bill as it stands the best way to take a considered view on how licensing may look in the future?

Lord Clement Jones commented on the same day 'It is one thing to have an extended licensing scheme for a body that already has a particular work that it needs to exploit in different formats over time and another to have a completely new work over which it tries to acquire rights through this process.'

The fear is that organisations which have access to works will try to take control of the licensing without recourse to the creators themselves.

On Feb 8 Lord Clement Jones said ‘We know that there will be a problem in the other place, where Members will not have time to debate the issues. We will have what is traditionally called the wash-up at the other end.’

This means legislation will be rushed through in The Commons in advance of a May 6 election, by people who do not know our industry and have no time to think about the issues involved.

Photographic organisations have been mobilising. The IPO held a meeting last Friday to discuss their major concerns. A report of this meeting ‘IPO meeting stalemate’ can be found on, run by EPUK (Editorial Photographers UK) along with their position statement on the bill.

BAPLA has issued a statement which calls for orphan works to be released for non-commercial use only, and for safeguards on moral rights and metadata.

Rights organisations are asking, at the very least, for enforceable moral rights, attribution of works, and protection of metadata. These things are strongly opposed by what the IPO calls other stakeholders - publishers in other words.

The Periodical Publishers Association (the PPA) issued a statement in September last year opposing any change in the law on moral rights. At present moral rights, which include the right to accreditation, have to be 'asserted'. Creators organisations are calling for a default position with automatic moral rights.

The photographic industry is reacting to a bill which drives a cart and horses through the rights of creators in order (it would appear) to appease the publishing industry. Despite recent promises of consultation for the setting up of the orphan works and extended licensing schemes, the process appears to be profoundly opaque and undemocratic.

The Collective Licensing provision is vague. What kind of licensing will be enabled under this provision? Who will decide? Many more questions need to be asked and answered before it is safe to give the go ahead to any such schemes.

With the bill brewing dangerously before Christmas, it was surprising how little reaction was to be found online. In an interview with BJP the AOP tried to reassure photographers that 'We have the ear of the IPO', and statements from other organisations were also vague. Lobbying was going on.

Now things have reached a critical point. The AOP said recently in the BJP ‘We feel everyone should be aware that should the bill pass in its current form any creative work, including photography, is potentially open to political, social, religious or commercial gain by anyone; if the creator of that work cannot be easily identified and traced.' (BJP-online) The AOP views on the best way forward are set out here.

DACs is the collecting society positioned to license photographic works in an Extended Licensing Scheme. Such are the fears, that DACs (BJP online 5 March) has moved to reassure creators that it is not in the business of licensing in rightsholders' primary markets. Creators may well feel that any such reassurances are flimsy in the face of the powers being dished out by the bill in its current form. Perhaps the AOP, which is represented on the board of DACs, can throw more light on this matter.

An election will be called very soon. Even the helpful amendments proposed may not make it onto the statute book. The thought that our industry may be the victim of a ‘wash-up’ should stir us to action.

What can we do?

1) Stay up to date with developments by visiting these sites

Creators Rights Alliance

2) Contact your MP before it's too late!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Digital Economy Bill - amendments to be discussed

Work is going on to amend parts of the Digital Economy Bill. Lord Bridgeman and Baroness Buscombe have been active in defining some terms.

Parts of the proposed ammendments are listed below (These are extracts, for full information see the original bill and its amendments in full).

They give more detail on:
  • Definition of Orphan Work
  • Where burden of proof of Orphan status should reside (the publisher)
  • Compensation to copyright holder if found
  • What a diligent search entails
  • What kind of organisation may become a licensing body

30A Orphan works

The Secretary of State may by regulations provide that acts in relation to an orphan work which would otherwise require the consent of the copyright owner may be done notwithstanding the subsistence of copyright.

A work shall become an orphan work when the copyright owner cannot be found.

The burden of proof that the copyright owner cannot be found shall be on the person who publishes the orphan work, and the burden shall be discharged by proof that a diligent search to identify and locate the copyright owner has been undertaken and has not been successful.

The work shall cease to be an orphan work when the identity and location of the copyright owner becomes known.

The copyright owner shall be compensated in an amount equal to the licence fee he would have received had he been identified at the time of publication and he shall be entitled to aggravated damages if the person who publishes the work is unable to discharge the burden of proof described in subsection (3).

Regulations under subsection (1) shall only provide for authorising a licensing body that represents a substantial number of authors or, as appropriate, performers of the type of works for which the licence is to be granted.

The regulations shall provide that no such licence may be granted unless the would-be licensee demonstrates to the licensing body that they have undertaken a diligent search for authors, performers and other holders of rights in each work for which a licence is sought, including the making of detailed enquiries to relevant institutions and rights holders in the same or similar fields.

Regulation under subsection (1) shall only provide for authorising a licensing body that represents a substantial number of authors or, as appropriate, performers of the type of works for which the licence is to be granted.

The amendments are going through the committee stage of the Lords over the next few days.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Digital Economy Bill- Copyright Alert!

The teen years, the twenty tens, could bring big changes to the way copyright is handled. While we were all busy winding down for Christmas, The Digital Economy Bill went through two readings in the House of Lords, and now early in the new year it is hurtling through the parliamentary process on timetable which will make it a done deal by the election. Should we be concerned? You bet.

Anyone reading reports in the press – mainly the British Journal of Photography which has been manfully reporting on the bill since mid November – will be wondering what the lawmakers are cooking up. Associations like the AOP, BAPLA and The Societies have been watching progress of the bill, but reports before Christmas told us they were waiting to find out more before making any comment. Finding out more was not an easy task. Detail on how the provisions are to be put into practice for our industry are simply not there.

The bill casts a wide net to include copyright and copyright infringement in all media, without much reference to differing business models already in existence. Designed to deal with changes in business, and expectations in the digital age, it addresses issues like the downloading music from the intenet and the switch to digital radio, as well as more general provisions to make things easier for copyright holders and the people who use their works.

The bill outlines changes which could present serious threats to copyright holders and businesses working in photography.

The creative industries, says Lord Mandelson, are at the heart of the discussions, but the bills remit is about wider legal frameworks and infrastructure, about readiness in the economy, competitiveness and growth.

The question is, whose growth is being referred to? This is where we need to get down to what's actually in the bill.

In the photography business we are mainly concerned with the clauses relating to Orphan Works, collective licensing provisions, and changes to the copyright law.

Overall, the idea is to 'simplify copyright licensing and facilitate access to works that are currently locked up' at the same time as making it easier for rights holders to enforce their rights.

Orphan Works legislation is being driven by public sector archives, and by publishers. The museums and public archives sector wants to release for use the millions of images currently in the 'orphaned' category, that is those images for which the copyright information cannot be found (Culture and Commerce on Demand). Publishers also have an interest in works being more available.

A bill was introduced in the USA 2006 and again in 2008 but failed to make it into legislation, due to widespread concerns over its effects on the rights of creators. In 2008 The National Press Photographers Association published a statement which included the following "Unfortunately what began as a measure to allow librarians, historians and educators increased access to older copyrighted works has become a misguided attempt to dilute current copyright law, which is something that we as an organization of photojournalists cannot support.”

That just about says it. Most people are keen for the public sector to be able to make available to the public works they hold, for which they may not have copyright details. But the idea of sweeping into the same net the millions of digital images which are circulating without attached copyright data, that is without metadata in the image file, is shocking. The suspicion is that one way or the other, creators’ rights will be eroded.

The Digital Economy Bill allows for 'extended collective licensing' to help streamline the rights clearance process.

This means that collecting societies will be able to 'assume a mandate to license the use of works and collect fees on behalf of rights holders who have not signed up to that society subject to the rights holders retaining the ability to opt out of such arrangements.’

These powers work hand in hand in the case of orphan rights, which will be licensed by centralised licensing bodies or collecting societies which have been give the mandate to do it.

Moreover, the bill gives the Secretary of State the right to amend the CPDA (Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988) for the purpose of 'preventing or reducing copyright infringement in relation to technological developments that have occurred or are likely to occur.’ Consultation will be required and Parliament will have 'the opportunity to check that it is fair and proportionate to all parties.'

The arguments in favour of these measures are that the digital age has thrown up challenges which are not catered for by current licensing and copyright frameworks. The problem with the legislation as it stands is that it is drafted to cover all forms of media without recognition of the different licensing systems and business models operating in different media. The detail which we require to be able to judge the effect of the legislation on our own part of the media industry, specifically the use of photographic works, is totally lacking. At the moment it looks as if the legislation gives carte blanche to persons unknown to come up with practical implementations of the laws. How can we respond in these circumstances ?

Take the Orphan Works issue. Will registration of some sort be required to protect works which are on the internet from inadvertantly becoming orphans? This model was proposed in the US, and it could become a creeping reality in the UK if we are not careful. The extended licensing which would cover Orphan Works would be regulated in some way, but we don’t know how or by whom. We have no idea how an organisation would become mandated to license OW's or what the criteria would be, or to what extent they would be required to protect creators rights, whether they could be commercial entities or not for profit organisations.

What we do know is that collecting societies are waiting in the wings to scoop up the work, and that they have always keen to extend the scope of their licensing activities into areas which are currently serviced by pictures agencies and photographers directly. We also know that publishers have an interest in non-granular licensing methods which make it easier for them to get their hands on works for a lower unit cost.

It has been pointed out that while there are categories of images (current affairs and staff photographers) where there is no right to a credit, it is absurd to contemplate legislation which makes it easier to use these works without reference to the copyright holder.

We know that large numbers of images are, and have been, held in publishers archives, particularly in the news and magazine sectors, without permission of the rightsholder. Do those images which have been acquired under the counter so to speak, and mismanaged so that they have parted company with their rights information, now suddenly find themselves on a fast track to copyright abuse?

This could be seen as alarmist talk. We are assured in some quarters that the particularities of the photographic industry are well understood and represented. But until we see evidence for this we can only worry about the fact that so few of the comments on the bill in the House of Lords relate to the photographic business. The overwhelming number of comments were on other matters like the ability of service providers to shut down or reduce services to repeat copyright infringers ( music downloaders, teenagers in their bedrooms). These issues are widely written about and debated.

Those in the photographic business who laboured over the 1988 act will attest to the fact that the business of photography is not widely understood. This will be a critical disadvantage to our industry in the days and months to come, with the danger that our concerns will be subsumed into general attempts to create a 'balance' between the rights of creators and the rights of consumers, in an environment of powerful lobbying interests.

Our job is to ask questions of our representatives and of the lawmakers. We need a clearer picture of how the legislation will be enacted, what the checks and balances are, who will be consulted and in what way. At the same time we need to educate the legislators about the specifics of an industry which has been successfully handling orphaned works for the last 30 years without upset, an industry which is constantly changing in response to the needs of business customers and the pubic, and one which needs for its very survival to have control its licensing.

Rupert Grey was quoted in the British Journal of Photography today saying ‘The exclusive right to copy is the habeas corpus of copyright. Once you take it away you remove the foundation stone on which everything rests – the right of the artist to control his own work. This is the most fundamental change in copyright since it first appeared in the statute books 300 years ago.’

BAPLA has issued a press statement calling for amendments to Clause 116B (see below) and pointing out that because there may be a number of rights associated with an image – trade marks, territory licences, model rights, underlying artists rights- the collective licensing of photographic works could damage more than the rights of the photographer.

The Creative Rights Alliance is working on amendments to the bill to protect creators. BAPLA and the NUJ are part of the group. Things are moving very fast, too fast for most of us to keep up with. But now is the time to ask questions of the people representing the industry. We need to know what is being proposed on our behalf to counter the damaging scope and fuzziness of the Bill.

View Clause 116 A and B, relating to Orphan Works and Collective Licensing here.
See the entire bill and view progress of the bill on

Sarah Saunders 20 January