New UK Image Copyright Law Allows Anyone To Use Uploaded Images. The Government Responds


The Enterprise Regulatory and Reform Act, which puts controversial new copyright laws around what is called "orphan works" in place for photos uploaded onto the internet, received Royal Assent and will be published on May 2nd 2013.

Simply put, the changes mean if the owner of a photo cannot be found "after a diligent search made in accordance with the regulations," or is not explicitly stated in the photo's metadata, it is available to be used by anyone.  This has been done to "modernise the UK's copyright regime to promote innovation in the design industry, encouraging investment in new products while strengthening copyright protections."

Of course, this has created a backlash amongst photographers, as people are saying this is the "killing blow" to their right of ownership in the age of the web, legalising corporate image theft.  With image uploading as is, social networks (such as Facebook or Instagram) strip metadata off photos and Google image search finds images without putting them in the context of its legalities, concerns are rising.  However, note that a lack of metadata does not automatically turn your photo into an "orphan work" for public use.  

"Owners of photographs posted online will not lose control of their copyright under changes outlined in the Act," said an Intellectual Property Office spokesperson. "Nor do the changes mean anyone can use a copyright work without permission or free of charge. If someone copies a photo posted online they still need the permission from the rights holder of the photo to do so. If they don't have this permission they will have to apply for and buy an orphan works licence."

Looking into the act in more detail, if a publication is genuinely unable to find the owner, and can prove this to the Government, they can buy that image for the pre-arranged licence fee.  That fee will then be held for if the original owner is found by the Government or comes forward.

You may also remember that Instagram tried to do something quite similar, which received a similar uproar, removing ownership so companies could use your pictures for advertisement purposes.  The difference being this is on a Governmental level, and pertains to the whole of the Internet.

We await more detail on this in the form of the final written version, developed in consultation with key stakeholders, including people who represent the interests of photographer.  Then we will be able to look into the terms of use, and the conditions behind this sub-licensing and exclusivity.