Is the end near for copyright?

• Copyright Tarnished •

• Copyright Tarnished •
Is the time approaching when copyright protection will fade away.

Photographers copyright is under attack.

In general, copyright protects the creator of an original work allowing them to control their interests in the work. However, most countries recognise copyright limitations giving users some rights. These “fair” exceptions have mostly been related to “personal use” and contained situations…

“Fair use” or “fair dealing” describes acts permitted under the international copyright agreement – the Berne Convention. It allows for a certain degree of copy freedom for users (normally copies of parts of a work) without infringing copyright, these acts are:

  • Private and research study purposes.
  • Performance, copies or lending for educational purposes.
  • Criticism and news reporting.
  • Incidental inclusion.
  • Copies and lending by librarians.
  • Acts for the purposes of Royal Commissions, statutory enquiries,
  • Judicial proceedings and parliamentary purposes.
  • Recording of broadcasts for the purposes of listening to, or
    viewing, at a more convenient time. This is known as “time shifting”.
  • Producing a back up copy for personal use of a computer program.
  • Playing sound recording for a non profit making organisation, club or society.
    (Profit making organisations and individuals should obtain a license from PRS for Music.)

Modern digital media and network technology has challenged “fair use” exceptions. The concept of copyright is becoming difficult to enforce when it is so easy to fully copy and pass on a digital file of an original work. Unintentional copies, digital theft, viral passing of files and the ease with which the creators’ identifying-metadata can be stripped from a file make the creation of orphan works a frequent event.

For photographers this is a huge problem. There are literally billions of online images, and millions more being added to the Internet daily. Loss of control over copyright is implied by the sheer volumes involved. The difficulty of searching for orphaned, stolen or inadvertent copies is almost insurmountable. Such volumes make it normal for copyright owners to be unaware of a vast number of copyright transgressions. It also makes it easier for copyright thieves to steal and use images without the owner profiting from its use.

The best search engines are unable to effectively search all images online. Additionally, search engines are confounded by images that have had the identifying data of the copyright holder stripped out. Many social networking websites strip data in this way. The lack of internal identifying data in an image file, and the sheer volume of online images make it very difficult to trace your works once they have been “released into the wild”.

Search engines can only match images by matching the code that describes the image within the file. Images are created digitally by a large volume of such code. Digitally changed files will no longer match to the original file. Copyright normally protects the image even if it is changed. Although search engines have adapted to being able to match to certain changes, that adaptation does not necessarily cover the full extent of copyright protection. This is another way an orphan work can be created.

Copyrighted images online are also incredibly easy to steal. In Will I get my images stolen online? I pointed out that it is impossible to provide online protection of images. If you can see it you can download it and save it. Equally you can upload it to another site, either as your own image, or as an orphan work, so it is effectively in an unknown location as far as the author is concerned.

The problem

While most of the “fair use” actions are not in themselves problematic in an obvious way, it is long term abuse and publicly held assumptions that do the damage. I have argued above that in very real terms photographers have difficulty tracking their images online. What is in practical terms very easy to do is often assumed to be legal too.

The fact that images can be downloaded and uploaded so easily means that public ignorance of the copyright laws make it almost a fact of life that people will down/up load images, treat them as their own and generally abuse them.

My image “Wolf!”, for example, now warrants three pages of links to websites that use the image – most without any permission to do so. These are the ones Google can find. It is probably impossible to identify all the computers that hold a copy of that image now.

In the future “Wolf!” is almost certain to become disconnected from the attributions to me that most of the links currently carry. I am sure that in the years to come I will see that image all over the Internet and some people will be using it for commercial gain.

In 1999 I published a true story called “Matthew Sails” about a young disabled boy I once worked with. It was published as the second story down on this page… Heroic Stories, Sample stories. Since that time that article has been published on at least 100 different websites. At different times I have counted it translated into seven languages.

As I write “Matthew Sails” indexes on Google with more than four pages of dissimilar links. On a good number of sites it is attributed to me. On about a quarter of the sites it is unattributed. On a small percentage of sites it is unashamedly claimed by other people. The only site that has my permission to publish this story is the original site. A large number of the sites that re-publish my story (illegally) are religious sites. I am sure there is no intent to commit an unlawful act, but if religious sites are doing it then what hope is there?

If you replicate the experience of “Matthew sails” for the approximately two thousand images I have online you can see the magnitude of the problem I face personally. There are millions of people in this position.

So, is copyright protection an effective mechanism? No. In real terms it is completely disregarded by a significant percentage of online users. We know that the music industry has been devastated by digital theft. We also know that professional photographers are losing out because of digital transmission and broadcast theft. Where once we sold on a large numbers of prints to wedding attendees, now one CD does the rounds and all that revenue is lost.

In effect the mechanisms of copyright have lost their teeth and there is no practical control method online.

Now we see governments making the situation worse

The latest UK Act of Parliament to affect this issue is the subject of my article Will I get my images stolen online? We know the answer to that question is, “yes – your images will be stolen”. We know that copyright is something that needs more protection not less. Yet open-door legislation (like the new UK copyright legislation) is going to make things worse.

Help us raise awareness by signing the petition below and tell your friends too. Find out about the issues so you will be able to fight bad secondary legislation on this issue. Visit this UK Government petition at:

Stop Legalised Theft of Copyrighted Works  External link - opens new tab/page

Please sign the petition and keep your eyes open for more information in the coming months.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

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