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. "

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