Following the Queen’s Speech last November, the Digital Economy Bill has been hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Not least because of criticism from consumer rights and privacy groups regarding the ‘three strikes’ scheme – an initiative aimed at addressing online copyright infringement which could see the Internet connections of persistent offenders, cut off.
Not surprisingly, record companies, recording artists and writers will likely support the bill. Rather surprisingly, so does Feargal Sharkey, but I only mention this as I’ve recently learnt he’s the CEO of UK Music – an umbrella organisation representing the collective interests of our commercial music industry… For some ISP’s, it would seem a good heart these days is still hard to find (a good heart) as BT and TalkTalk have publically opposed the bill, voicing a preference for court fines for repeat offenders (as opposed to facing fines themselves for non-compliance).
As the government, Feargal and the ISP’s continue their crusades; much of the detail has also come under closer scrutiny, in particular Clause 17 which (allegedly) allows ministers to muck around with future copyright law at their whim, and Clause 43 (previously Clause 42) which some are saying, essentially makes every picture on the Internet free.
This, as you can imagine, could have a hugely damaging effect on the creative industry, especially for photographers and illustrators who rely on the Web as a primary sales tool. Stop43.org, a new site dedicated to campaigning against the Clause, neatly describes the problem:
“Until now, if someone found one of your photographs and wanted to use it commercially, they couldn’t without first asking you. Clause 43 changes all that by allowing the use of ‘Orphan Works’ – photographs, illustrations and other artworks whose owners cannot be found.”
In other words:
“Clause 43 says that if someone finds your photograph, wants to use it and decides that they can’t trace you, they can do whatever they like with it after paying an arbitrary fee to a UK Government-appointed ‘licensing body’.”
This licensing body is yet to be determined and while it does at least say works ‘found’ via the Web will still have to be paid for, it doesn’t say how copyright holders will be properly remunerated or the sort of use that will be permissible. This absence of clarity, it seems, is the primary concern for copyright owners but the Association of Illustrators talks a much calmer view, highlighting the fact that amendments are still being tabled and discussed as the Bill makes its way through the House of Lords.
However, this grey area could mislead people into thinking everything they find via Google Images doesn’t have to be paid for… Although I can’t help thinking some people already think this is the case. The likes of Getty and iStock must think so as they make it very clear who the copyright owners are, but for the rest of us, will it mean watermarking everything we put up online?
Photo credit: Flickr user bruchez