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Legal Matters For The UK’s Creative Content Authors

The following post will require additional reading to fully understand the nuances of the situation, this post is merely a raising of the issue. It’s a dry read and I apologise for that, but it’s important. Links for further reading are at the bottom of the article. 

I like politics I do, I find myself frequently listening to political shows, debates and the various assemblies at Democracy Live when I’m working at my desk during the day. It’s a great way to learn about all manner of subjects which might not otherwise come into your consideration, it also helps keep my analytical and critical thinking skills on the ball, never a bad thing.

Despite my interests, talking about politics publicly is generally something to be avoided by me, especially on the blog. The risks of angering a future client is far too great if I’m seen to be taking sides on a particular issue. I’m also far too humble to espouse a particular position, especially since there are far more educated and qualified people who are capable of discussing any political / legal subject far better than me. The likelihood of me buggering up a legal/political topic is high.

However sometimes things happen which directly affect my work and my colleagues that need to be raised.

Today, it came to my attention that the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill is effectively guaranteed to become law.

Without commenting on the bill as a whole, I want to discuss one particular part of it that concerns content creators, both photographers and filmmakers alike. Orphan Works and Extended Collective Licencing.

Before this bill is passed, the UK followed the Berne Convention, an international copyright protection agreement. Copyright in all the signed countries are counted as equals under the Berne Convention. Under the Berne Convention, orphan works, copyrighted material where the creator / owner cannot be contacted, are not available for use. This, while arguably heavy handed, totally protects the copyright holder.

The UK’s Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill changes all this. Orphan Works can now be used by commercial entities providing that they performed a “diligent search” for the owner. What diligent search means legally is entirely unclear and thus totally open for abuse. Is it checking the EXIF info? Is it simply a reverse Google image search? How many pages of results does a company need to look at? 1? 10? 1000? Asking camera manufacturers the contact details for everyone who’s bought a camera ever? Emailing every known photographer in the world? Searching Bing for images with keywords?

The point is hypothetical situations like this can easily occur:

I could take a photo for a film, a relatively unknown film. No-one cares who I am nor do I own the copyright (that is handed over to the production company), so I don’t have a watermark on the image, and the filmmakers didn’t want to put the films title on the photo for various reasons.

Someone thinks the photo is cool, saves it to their PC and re-hosts it somewhere, stripping it of all meta data. Meanwhile the production company have altered their marketing campaign and decided to take the original image down, maybe for contractual obligations. It can no longer be found via search engines.

Any company could now find and use that re-hosted image for whatever purpose they see fit and never be sued for it. Even controversial organisations will be free to use this image without me or the production company knowing about it. As a result, no longer can I be ensured that my work will be used properly.

Fortunately, the vast majority of my work comes from production companies, and it’s much harder for films to disappear out of record, however other photographers will be utterly open to abuse. It has already been bad enough for photographers who have frequently had their work used without permission or payment by less than honourable news paper companies, this law will only encourage papers to pretend that they found no contact details in order to lower their costs of operation.

I understand the intent of the bill, which was to allow libraries to digitise old books without fear of a legal reprisal, however the way it has been handled is less than stellar and really can cause a lot of damage to creative industry workers who’s incomes are already highly squeezed as it is.

How do we as content creators handle this? How much will this affect every day life? What are the exact repercussions?  Honestly, I have no idea, I’m a lowly cameraman. However I will admit that I am annoyed at myself for not doing more to try and stop it from passing. I heard rumbles about this law a long time ago and did nothing to assist the people and organisations who didn’t want it to pass.

I want write about this further, however I feel that I would be rambling too much about wider points that don’t strictly pertain to the topic of the blog, so I will leave it short but sweet.

I welcome any and all discussion on this topic whether it’s private or public, especially if you’re someone who understands legalese and can make educated points. Feel free to make comments below or email me at If I feel it’s necessary, I might make a follow up article on the subject.

Additional Reading.

Highly recommended reading about the bill itself from the Dept. of Business Innovation & Skills blog. Read the comments too.

Social Media Sites Remove Image Metadata (copyright information)


One response

  1. Anton

    Hi Mark,

    One of my friends is a barrister, with an interest in this kind of law, and he reckons the following is a pretty good summary of the actual situation…

    May 2, 2013 at 12:31 pm

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