EU Copyright for the Internet

I’m glad that someone has read the EU’s latest set of amendments recently approved by the European Parliament on the proposals on copyright and related rights in the Digital Single Market, because, quite frankly I find it quite impossible going. Should you wish to try it is available online here. The press release is more understandable.

Of course we have no idea at the moment whether we will be in or out of the EU  in a week’s time , or in a year’s time or the two years within which the proposals will be implemented by EU member governments. And quite possibly even if we do get out of the EU, our government will still implement some or all of the proposals.

One change that I personally would welcome, though it will have no effect on living photographers come in Article 14, which is actually reasonably clear about the status of reproductions of works of visual art in the public domain.  When I wrote a whole series of articles about nineteenth and early 20th century photography some years ago, it was always annoying not to be able to use illustrations of photographs that were in the public domain, but which various bodies claimed copyright.

The proposed change – or rather clarification – has been welcomed by Art Historian, as Art History News makes clear, though of course unless or until it becomes incorporated into UK law, organisations such as the National Gallery and The Tate and other museums will probably continue to claim copyright and charge fees despite their European counterparts having abandoned the practice.

Copyright was originally intended to protect those who produced ‘artistic’ works, and effectively outlaws the argument that there can be a new copyright in a photograph of an exisiting work or art which is in the public domain – here it is in Article 14:

Member States shall provide that, when the term of protection of a work of visual art has expired, any material resulting from an act of reproduction of that work is not subject to copyright or related rights, unless the material resulting from that act of reproduction is original in the sense that it is the author’s own intellectual creation.

The rest of the document seems to have generally received a cautious welcome from photographers and photographer’s groups, as you can see on the European Federation of Journalists site. For a more euphoric view see The famous Copyright Directive explained and how it can save photography and journalism, and it’s also worth looking at Wikipedia’s reservations in ‘We do not support the EU Copyright Directive in its current form. Here’s why you shouldn’t either’.

Of course for working photographers the major problem is not in the actual law on copyright, but in enforcing it. It takes some work to identify unauthorised usage of images – and few agencies who are happy to take a large slice from images currently take any proactive role in trying to reclaim what could be a significant source of income for them.

There are companies which offer such services, but while these may be viable for photographers who produce a relatively small number of highly popular images, the fees that they charge suggest to me that they have little faith in their own ability to identify abuse and recover payments. And while some photographers have done very well out of doing so, I think many of use have found it time-consuming and with little return.

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