Photographers protest the "Instagram act" - changes to orphan works rushed through in the UK


Over ten thousand photographers & creatives have signed this ePetition to the UK gov, protesting "legalized theft of copyrighted works", as there's a legislation rushed through parlement enabling people to use any copyrighted work as long as a "diligent search" for the rights holder has been made. Translation: "I googled it and found no owner" allows you to infringe pretty much anything.

See BBC Photographers' anger at law change over 'orphan works', while Andrew Orlowski at The Register dubbed the changes as the "Instagram act.

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act was passed by Parliament last week. The government said it would support "the UK's enterprise culture and help make it one of the best places to do business".

But campaign group Stop43, which represents a wide range of photographers and agencies, said the act was "premature, ill thought-out and constitutionally improper".

But that's not all, as The Register points out, this change can open up for new businesses to bloom on the backs of other peoples work.

How so? Previously, and in most of the world today, ownership of your creation is automatic, and legally considered to be an individual's property. That's enshrined in the Berne Convention and other international treaties, where it's considered to be a basic human right. What this means in practice is that you can go after somebody who exploits it without your permission - even if pursuing them is cumbersome and expensive.

The UK coalition government's new law reverses this human right. When last year Instagram attempted to do something similar, it met a furious backlash. But the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act has sailed through without most amateurs or semi-professionals even realising the consequences.

The Act contains changes to UK copyright law which permit the commercial exploitation of images where information identifying the owner is missing, so-called "orphan works", by placing the work into what's known as "extended collective licensing" schemes. Since most digital images on the internet today are orphans - the metadata is missing or has been stripped by a large organisation - millions of photographs and illustrations are swept into such schemes.

For the first time anywhere in the world, the Act will permit the widespread commercial exploitation of unidentified work - the user only needs to perform a "diligent search". But since this is likely to come up with a blank, they can proceed with impunity. The Act states that a user of a work can act as if they are the owner of the work (which should be you) if they're given permission to do so by the Secretary of State.

The Act also fails to prohibit sub-licensing, meaning that once somebody has your work, they can wholesale it. This gives the green light to a new content-scraping industry, an industry that doesn't have to pay the originator a penny. Such is the consequence of "rebalancing copyright", in reality.

If you create anything in any way, write, illustrate, design, photograph, music, video, fashion, code - sign the petition as it's your right to chose how you want to share your work that is being taken away, while corporations can grow rich on your work.

Stop Legalised Theft of Copyrighted Works

about the author

Dabitch Creative Director, CEO, hell-raising sweetheart and editor of Adland. Globetrotting Swede who has lived and worked in New York, London, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Stockholm.

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