Friday, 3 May 2013

Orphans ahoy!

I've written in the past about orphan works. These are copyright things (works we call them in the rights biz) whose rights owner is unknown or untraceable. Now the UK Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act has been passed and the game is afoot. An act name worthy of Yes Minister's Department of Administrative Affairs and one I try not to say out loud. This, amongst stuff about landlords and whistle blowers, gives the government the ability to issue laws to permit the lawful use of orphans and said laws (called statutory instruments or SIs) will be promulgated later this year. The drive from Europe is to allow non-commercial reproduction of orphans to preserve them and to permit access. I know that the boundary between commercial and non-commercial is both hazy and full of large rocks but it does at least draw a line many people find reasonable under the circumstances. However, the UK plan for orphans goes further, notably allowing commercial exploitation.

This is proving particularly unpopular with photographers and illustrators and has even been called the 'end of photographic copyright'. I suspect the debacle will not be as dramatic as many fear but it has to be seen in the context of how photographs and other images are treated on the internet ... posted and reposted and along the way losing any information about their rights ownership. There's a good (and for once non-hysterical) roundup of the issues on the Register.

As designers, builders and managers of web sites we have a responsibility to treat the rights of things on our sites correctly. This doesn't just mean clearing the rights any more. We need to make sure that any images have suitable metadata embedded in them and that any program systems do not remove said metadata. For example, ImageMagick does not carry over metadata when you process an image to, for example, resize it. However, there is a PHP Metadata Toolkit (probably others too) so you can read the metadata and then reinsert it. But you have to actively make sure it will happen.

Remember, as I said before, some day the orphan could be yours.

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