The threat to our living

By , February 17, 2010 3:44 pm

The government’s drive to enact the Digital Economy Bill before the general election poses, potentially, a far greater risk to professional photography as we know it than the digital revolution itself.

Much has been written on this quite eloquently already for example here, so rather than rehash, it makes more sense to take the problem up directly with our MPs. One wonders exactly how that will pan out given the numbers who have nothing to fight for, but I feel it is worth at least stating a case rather than lying down without a fight. On that basis I have written the following letter to two MPs – Derek Conway (Independent) who is the MP for the constituency in which I have my office, and Michael Fallon (Cons) who represents the constituency where I have my home.

I will post the responses when and if I get them. In the meantime I strongly urge you to do the same where ever you are. And by the way, if you are reading this as an amateur photographer, don’t be fooled into thinking this does not affect you. If you take pictures and post them on the internet, it probably affects you more than it does the pros.

Dear Derek Conway/Michael Fallon,

I should like to ask how you stand on the proposed Digital Economy Bill.

As a professional photographer of over 15 years based/living in your constituency, I am extremely concerned about the elements of the proposed legislation surrounding “orphan works”, and indeed anything that undermines my right as the author of creative works to be the sole controller of how and if such works are used. That right of control has been the mainstay of my living throughout my adult life. When on occasion I have discovered that my work has been used without my consent I have had the right in law to be recompensed and demand that the illegal use be stopped.

The proposed legislation will in effect remove that right, since there is no balancing item in the bill that requires publishers of such works to maintain a link between the works and their authors. Neither does the bill specify what would constitute a “diligent search” for the author of a given work. Once a work has been deemed to be “orphan” it can be used subject to a nominal payment to a government organisation. If the author subsequently comes forward, he or she gets a percentage of what was probably already a derisory sum, with the rest going to cover administrative costs and no doubt the government.

But how are such fees to be determined? A couple of years ago an editor approached me to use an image of mine she had come across, on the cover of her magazine. I rejected the request because I did not want to be associated with that publication, but had I agreed, the appropriate fee would have been nearly a thousand pounds. If this bill is enacted, a similar editor could find such an image, not be able to “discern” that it was mine, and pay a nominal fee for its use. What then? My work is used in a way I find objectionable, and on discovering its use, my recompense is a percentage of a figure that we all know is going to be significantly lower than it should have been.

If you wonder how likely this might be, consider that it is quite common when works are supplied to a client, for the layout process to strip (not necessarily deliberately) all the embedded IPTC data that indicates the provenance of the work, in effect orphaning work that had been carefully “marked” for ownership.

I accept that the issue of Intellectual Property in the digital age needs to be reexamined, but the bill as it stands while addressing key issues for the music and movie industries, is hammering a nail in the coffin of professional photography at a time when it was just starting to show a solid potential for growth following the digital revolution. When it is also dealing with the near collapse of traditional editorial markets, and the negative effects of a deep recession, the last thing we need is for our political representatives to hand over our near lifeless corpse to Mr Murdoch and his friends on a silver platter.

I hope I can rely on you to push for the bill to be reexamined paying particular attention to its effects on all forms of professional photography at its next reading in the House.

For further information on this pressing issue please read the following.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Cockerham
Member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

2 Responses to “The threat to our living”

  1. […] have received a reply from Derek Conway to my letter regarding the Digital Economy Bill. It has all the passion of a man on his way out of politics and […]

  2. […] a little belatedly, I have had a reply from Michael Fallon MP. I assume from the tenor of his reply that he is seeking reelection: Dear […]

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