THE BLOG

Is the UK Government Trying to Kill Off Photographers

30/04/2013 12:04 BST | Updated 29/06/2013 10:12 BST

Regardless of if you're a proud parent taking pictures of your children or a professional photographer photographing news, weddings, portraits, landscapes and so on, all photographs uploaded to the internet will soon be in danger of getting stolen and used without your permission. Not only are you losing control of your images, but your subjects' rights are also being violated. All legally. All thanks to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill (ERRB) which received Royal Assent and is now an Act. This paves way for legislation. The fact that no Act has been stopped from becoming legislation since 1979 makes this extremely dangerous for anyone who takes pictures and puts them on the internet; FaceBook, Twitter and so on.

New Act Makes It Legal for Photographs to Get Used Without Payment to Their Authors

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Yes, you're reading this correctly. I'm in a state of disbelief and utter disgust with our Government. Appalling behaviour. Before I continue, it's imperative to understand that my post not only applies to professional photographers whose livelihood just got taken away by this Act, but also amateur photographers too.

Firstly, by taking a picture (any picture, be it a family snap or an amazing news picture, wedding picture, landscape etc) you create it and have copyright and ownership of that image. This is the law and a human right.

In a nutshell, the new Act (Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act, which received Royal Assent) that got voted through by government allows all work considered to be an orphan work to get used for free. Orphan works are those works whose creator cannot be found. One could immediately jump to the conclusion that this means purely photographers (this applies to more than photography, and to creatives as a whole) who have died and are uncontactable. It does not just mean this. It means any work. Consider for a moment that the billions of images that get uploaded to various websites, on the whole, have their metadata stripped out. IPTC and metadata is something most enthusiast photographers bother with (you should!) but the majority of photographers, especially those in the editorial markets, always fill in full IPTC which show's the author of the image, copyright, contact details and so on. Well, the majority of websites, social networks and so on strip out ALL of this data. Your work, even something you shot a minute ago and uploaded, just became an orphan work. As such, it can now be used for free and for whatever purpose the thief of the image wants to use if for.

The corporation or individual stealing your work has to show that they diligently searched for you, the author, before just taking your work and using it for their purpose, often commercially, so making them money from your work, for which you will not see a penny. Well, I guess it's easy to say I looked but the billions of images online meant I couldn't find the author. Also the wording is so loose and legally ambiguous that it's left to interpretations.

Although this Act still has to get made into actual legislation, no Act has been voted down since 1979, so it's considered a formality. This is happening. The first steps have been taken and the wording is paving way for the legislation to follow. This is extremely worrying and nobody who uploads photographs to the internet can afford to be complacent.

For those who don't know, a professional photographer's income also comes from licensing of images. For some, this is the majority of their income. It is our livelihood. The government just took that away. For some, this could well mean bankruptcy and unemployment. Why would a government elected to serve it's people take away their right to work and make a living? This is beyond me. How can this be considered serving the people? The photographer get's abused, their rights to their own creations taken away, just so corporations (multi billion pound behemoths in most cases) can save a very small fraction of their costs by getting their photography, for commercial use, for free. Also keep in mind the rights of your subjects being abused.

I'm utterly disgusted.

WHAT TO DO?

I suggest anyone who uploads pictures to the internet (Facebook, Twitter and so on) immediately learns how to watermark their pictures. Watermarking means putting text and / or a logo onto your pictures to say who they belong to, before uploading the images. It's easy to do and only takes seconds. For my main photography I use Aperture (and have presets with my logos made up - very simple) and for my iPhone photography I use Marksta (very simple to use and an excellent piece of software). Lightroom, Photoshop and so on can be used for watermarking. There are also apps for Android phones and so on. Spend a few minutes and Google how to do this. Safeguard your work.

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A watermark, comprising of a logo graphic file (bottom left) and a text (central) applied using the iPhone Marksta App. Photo: ©Edmond Terakopian

Watermarks should be placed on the image itself. You should also have a creation year, so the central text reads "©Edmond Terakopian 2013″. You can also, like in this case, be subtle but still brand your work. If you look at previous posts on this blog, you will notice that I have a specific blog watermark on the images. Also, by looking through my Flickr, you can see watermarking there too. Facebook friends will also notice how I watermark all images there too. Protect yourself, your work and your subjects too. Take action.

Following on from this, we need to try and get this Act killed off. Lobby your MPs and speak to any photography associations and organisations (BPPA, NUJ, MPA, SWPP etc) you belong to and ask them to campaign against this (some are already doing this, but all the social/wedding associations need to act too). This will effect EVERYONE so act NOW.

I also feel, and have done for years, that metadata should not be editable by anyone else but the photographer (or their picture desk). IPTC should have a password protect feature, much like locked PDF files. It should also be illegal and technically impossible for metadata to be changed or erased from an image by websites it is being uploaded to. Perhaps this is an avenue worth exploring?