Orphan Works and the death of visual journalism

I write this during a rather frenetic period in Delhi where I seem to be working on several things at once. I thought I should mention, ironically from the land of bureaucracy, some developments in the UK –  the home of liberty. Allegedly.

As some of you may be aware, the British government is determined to push through a devastatingly stupid piece of legislation – primarily aimed to give the ailing publishing industry free content: photographers images. Despite the failure of Orphan Works Legislation in the USA last year, HMG will seea similar bill into UK law by March 2010.

I am too tired, too saddened and angry to discuss this fully here but it means essentially that any image on the web, uncredited, is fair game for anyone to use. Since there is little way of proving ownership apart from visibly watermarking one’s name across every visible image, it means that anyone can come and use my work however they please without payment. In one masterstroke the UK government has effectively killed the concept of copyright for visual creators (that has stood for 150 years) and overturned the idea of moral rights. So – if you have images on Flickr, Facebook, Google or whatever – you might have the privilege of seeing someone use them commercially at your expense and there will be little you can do about it. And before anybody thinks that their work is protected on these or any other sites, the onus will be on you to prove that your work has been taken. You can of course register your work. For a fee. Good luck with that.

More Kafka-esque and more worrying is the UK Government’s attempts to effectively ban photography in public places in the name of data protection. Essentially The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has decided that professional photographers (amateurs with mobile phones will be exempt – for now) must now gain consent from anyone who might object to being photographed in public. This means the end to any kind of visual journalism/documentary/news work on the streets. Ironically, as this proposal is about protecting individual’s rights online and does not as I understand it specifically mention photography per se, I would venture that film cameras and images recorded as analogue would be exempted. Except of course they couldn’t be published electronically. For those inclined, you can read the consultation document here.

A fuller, more comprehensive survey of all this can be found at the excellent Copyright Action site to whom I am indebted for tireless service in highlighting these atrocious pieces of absurdity.

I would urge all to draft a letter to their MP’s (sorry if anyone heard a weary note in my voice there…) using this template. It’s not much, but short of me condoning more, ahem, forthright action against those seek that speak in our name I would suggest that this might be the only course…