Those of you who work in the photography industry may well be aware of the ongoing threat to a photographer’s legal right to claim ownership to their work, known as the “Orphan Works Bill” (or more widely as the “UK Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill”)?  While a previous attempt to change copyright law was successfully seen off following a grass-roots campaign by opponents of the Bill, the Government is attempting to bring in a new selection of measures that will directly impact how and when someone can claim a photograph as their own.  To put this in very simple terms, under the plans, if a person believes that they do not know who took a photograph and they claim to have exhausted all avenues in ascertaining the owner, they would be legally allowed to use the image without payment.  While a supporter of the Bill may see this as a valuable opportunity to free up creativity and business, the reality is that it only takes a few clicks to strip all metadata (and therefore ownership details) from a picture, making it potentially “free to use”.  Not a good thing.

Fountain pen

Having seen the recent publicity drive by the organisers of the Stop 43 campaign, I followed their well-written advice and wrote a number of letters to select members of the House of Lords, raising my concern about the possibility of new laws coming in that will affect photographers all over the country.  Never having written to a politician or a Lord before, I had to do a bit of research, even including how to address the recipients!  I sent my letter along with a pre-written covering letter and a selection of graphic illustrations of potential pitfalls to the Governments sweeping proposals.

The Stop 43 website suggests sending letters to the following peers as they are seen to be influential on the outcome of this issue;

While I share my letter below, I ask that if when you decide to write to a member of the House of Lords, you write your own letter as it soon becomes very clear to someone if they’re just receiving the same letter over and over again.  This would prove to be a waste of time as your letter won’t be read and your concerns potentially disregarded.  Make it personal and you have more chance of a response.  If you have ropey handwriting (like 99% of the world), type it and print it out.  The important thing is that it lands on the desk of the recipient and can’t just be deleted as spam. Keep it polite and clear and you will hopefully get results (or at least a reply!)

I am writing to you to express my concern over the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill that is currently being proposed by the Government.

As a press photographer who has previously worked for The Times newspaper, and now works for Agence France-Presse international news agency, the proposed bill would both damage the industry and threaten my future income.  While the bill proposes many changes to the photography and creative industry, the elements that affect copyright ownership and the “Orphan Works” area concern me most, as they would potentially lead to countless legal cases of image ownership disputes and the organised theft of copyrighted material.

I’m asking for your help in placing any decisions concerning the changes to copyright law on hold until independent organisation “The Copyright Hub” has had a chance to provide its new licensed solutions to the issues addressed by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill.

Regarding the Orphan Works Directive, I request that you please support the proposal to delay the directive until the October 2014 deadline, and then to only implement it to any of the restrictions that the Copyright Hub has failed to address.

Within the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, a number of clauses have been strongly disputed with sections such as Clause 68 (116B) being described by the EU as follows; “This option would neither provide any incentive for collecting societies to become more efficient, nor simplify the multi-territorial licensing of rights (due to opt-outs from collective management which would often lead to repertoire disaggregation).”

As I stated above, the EU Orphan Works Directive is my main concern within the bill and I respectfully request that you please consider the following three measures that could provide a sense of balance to any proposal;

Firstly, Moral Rights must be automatic, un-waivable and without exception for visual artists.  Without this automatically granted right, the issue of “orphaned” photographs becomes a major issue.

Secondly, there must be real, enforceable penalties for metadata stripping.  Under the proposal, it would take a matter of seconds for someone to remove all traces of my ownership from an image before attempting to legally claim it as an orphaned image.  This is simply the digital version of claiming ownership of a car by removing the registration plates and, as such, should be punishable.

Following Germany’s lead, Fair Contract Law must be extended to apply to Intellectual Property.

I fear that there is a real risk that rushed changes to copyright law will create huge problems in the creative industry that could be avoided by a small amount of patience from the Government.  I ask that you provide my political voice when this issue comes before you.

Thank you for your time and attention.  It genuinely is appreciated.

Yours sincerely,

Leon Neal

The Lords

A few weeks down the line and this morning I received a number of tweets, alerting me to this article on the British Journal of Photography website.  It turns out that putting pen to paper potentially does make a difference after all. During the five-hour hearing in the House of Lords, Lord Stevenson referred to my letter;

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.

Whether or not raising the issue has any bearing on the final result, we will have to wait and see, but it’s been re-assuring to see that taking the time to stick a letter in an envelope and post it off gets your questions noticed.  While we all may grumble at the hassle of not being able to just click a few boxes on screen, you have to remember one thing; the easier it is to do something is directly related to how easy it is to ignore.

This issue potentially affects not only every photographer in the country, but also those in all areas of the creative arts.

Please do take the time to write a letter and send it before it’s too late.  You’ll only have yourself to blame if you find yourself struggling with the consequences of this ill-planned Bill in years to come.

9 Responses to “Putting pen to paper”

  1. Hear, here.

    (I mean, well worth the effort.)

    Posted by Sandeha Lynch
  2. Well done Neal, great to see the (well-written) individual can make a difference.

    I need to read up on this issue as I was mistaken in thinking the orphaned works element had been defeated/removed.

    If there is an insistence that this bill goes forward then least the govt can do is set up escrow-style accounts, where anyone using an an unattributed image must place the equivalent of the leading market rate for such an image and register the usage.

    Posted by miles
  3. @Sandeha – We all need to write though. It’s up to all of us to get writing!

    @Miles – Yes, it’s worth getting your head around the issue, even if it’s on a basic level. The Copyright Hub option certainly seems to be the best way so I’d rather they waited for their results than rushing into this really bad plan.

    Posted by tabascokid
  4. Well done Leon,

    I had a meeting this week with Mike Weatherley MP (heavily involved and on the All Party Parliamentary Group for copyright/IP etc)

    Expressed my (same) concerns in great detail

    Posted by Pete Webb
  5. I was wondering why the advice is to write to members of the House of Lords rather than to your MP. But from the Parliament website I can see that is currently going through the House of Lords

    From my understanding of how the system works, the bill has to go back to the House of Commons for any amendments to be made. I think I’m going to ask my MP what they are going to do about it when it does go back to the House of Commons.

    Posted by Patrick
  6. @Pete – Excellent! Well done, Pete. We all really need to be doing as much as we can. My real concern with this is that my letter wasn’t particularly great so the fact that he quoted me may mean that not many people are taking the time to write. This really is a chance to secure a part of every photographers financial future and I fear that too many people are sitting back and hoping others will sort it out for them.

    @Patrick – Yes, I believe that it passed through the Commons with no real problems sadly so the campaign site suggested heading them off at the pass and going straight to the Lords. That sounds like a good idea and I strongly suggest you do it. Imagine how good you’ll feel to have have done something about averting it! :)

    Posted by tabascokid
  7. Good post Leon and good on you for lobbying these political figures.

    I’ll be writing a letter. I’m not a pro tog but occassionally have the good luck to sell the odd image. I’d be be pretty miffed if my work profited someone else.

    Posted by Tim
  8. Having just penned (well actually typed) my comments in regards to the US Copyright’s offices request for feedback to US Orphan Works issue, your letter gives me some hope maybe even individuals can effect some change. Well done!

    Posted by Lynn
  9. @Tim – Nice one. It takes about 20 minutes or so to put together and really could make a difference. The Lords vote hasn’t happened yet as far as I know.

    @Lynn – Thanks! Good on you for putting the pressure on. :)

    Posted by tabascokid

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