PLUS Makes Progress

I’m pleased to see that “PLUS, the Picture Licensing Universal System, which will provide a single world-wide system for describing licences and to embed licensing information as metadata in images” which I mentioned here on my post More on Metadata in June 2008 is still making progress and has now reached the stage when I think all of us who sell (or try to sell) our photos should be signing up, at least for a free account. But becoming a supporting member will I think soon be an essential business expense.

I registered my interest back in 2008 and in April this year was invited to sign up for the registry and some of my details are among those of 5000 rights holders on the registry that is now online for beta testing.

There is an excellent long article by Tony Sleep on the EPUK web site – five pages starting here –  which every photographer should read.  Some of the comments also help to understand what PLUS is and what it can do for us, although others are less helpful and perhaps more about protecting certain commercial interests.

PLUS has been set up as a non-profit body, a co-op existing on funding from those who use its services. You can register for free membership – as I’ve done so far – and this will put your name and contact details into it’s database permanently. In itself this is worthwhile, but to get the full benefits of PLUS once it is fully up and running will require an annual fee; most individual users will get a reduction through belonging to one of its supporter organisations (or as a student/educator) bringing this down to $75.

I haven’t paid up to become a supporting member yet, but there are definite advantages, in particular in getting a unique PLUS ID (particularly for me, when there are just so many Peter Marshalls.)  More, you can chose your own “Custom Member IDs,” featuring your business name or any phrase, which will be linked to  your PLUS Member ID and can be used as a more memorable alternative. These are being issued on a first-come basis, so if you want a popular name or phrase you should join at once. Soon you will also get access to the digital asset management features of the PLUS Registry allowing registration, identification and management of images and licenses. Supporting membership also lets you add to your member profile for example allowing you to display a description and web address to your basic contact details.

Your registration is persistent: in other words PLUS will keep the information after you leave membership – perhaps because of retirement, change of career or death (when the record may be of interest to your heirs.)  Of course you will no longer be able to add further images once you leave.

There are two great strengths to PLUS. One is the wide range of support it has across the industry and secondly that it really does (or rather will) cover the whole field of image supply and use including contracts. Sleep describes it as “a grand design for a sustainable photographic ecology adapted to the internet age, evolved and refined over a decade of bridge-building and dialogue with thousands of companies, publishers, agencies, industry groups, lawyers, conservators, museums, art buyers, academics, creators and representative organisations from around the world.”

To make the most of PLUS you do need to join up, and to keep paying your annual fee for as long as you are creating new images. Photographers will also probably want the Lightroom plugin which costs £35 and enables you to embed PLUS information in your images (you can get a free trial version, but this only lets you export a single image at a time.) However it seems possible that later versions of Lightroom (and other software that some photographers use) may incorporate this natively, or that free plugins may become available.

PLUS is still a work in progress.  It has the support of many if not most of the big players, including many photographers’ organisations, but it also needs to attract large numbers of image creators.

A  shorter article on the BJP site by David Hoffman makes the advantages to photographers more clear.  PLUS offers a way to guard against your images  becoming “orphans.”

It now seems virtually inevitable that governments around the world will make it free (or very cheap) and easy to make use of images where “reasonable diligence” is unable to locate the copyright holder.  PLUS is I think our only real hope of protection against this.

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