Friday, 7 March 2014

An interesting week in UK image rights

Engraving of old typrewriter
You know that old Chinese curse: 'May you live in interesting times'. This last few days have been interesting for followers of copyright in photographs and other images ... but not necessarily cursed. If you're putting together a web-based project some things just got a lot easier.

We are already well advanced in discussions about how to implement the scheme for using orphan photographs. I've attended a few meetings at the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) discussing how the licences might work. One key discussion point is just what constitutes 'non-commercial use'. So I will briefly digress from my main point to refer you to an old document from the Creative Commons people which, based on a survey, does just that.

The reason why this question is important is because there is a significant difference between what rights owners will allow a 'commercial' user to do as opposed to a 'non-commercial' one. And often it is the use itself rather than the user; so it's complex.

Recent UK government legislation made provision for the IPO to occasionally issue 'notices' to explain and clarify aspects of copyright in a way that can be understood by the average person. This is what Lord Justice Greer once famously called the man on the Clapham omnibus back in a 1933 court case. So now there is some suitable reading for that bus journey for the IPO has issued its first such notice ... for photography on the web. They plan to issue more and will link them from this web page. On the whole it's a very good document. There are a few niggles I have with it but it is possibly the first step towards a universally useful Copyright Highway Code, so I'm all in favour.

Images on the web made the news yesterday, when the huge image agency, Getty, announced that it was now providing a service to allow people to embed images from its library, free of charge, on web pages that fit their quite broad definition of 'non-commercial'.  The story broke in the British Journal of Photography and their piece includes helpful elaboration from Getty's senior vice president of business development, content and marketing (must have a very long business card) Craig Peters. He says that a web page or blog with Google ads would not be considered commercial.
The fact today that a website is generating revenue would not limit the use of the embed. What would limit that use is if they used our imagery to promote a service, a product or their business. They would need to get a license.
The question of whether Google ads on the average blog is 'commercial' or not is one issue that makes deciding where to draw the line between the two very difficult. [There is a separate issue of just what Getty's initiative might do for the stock photo market and for stock photographers. However, Getty are being pragmatic: there is a lot of web infringement of their images and they now have a plan to control and eventually monetize this.]

Finally, in case you missed it, the British Library have placed over a million of their scanned images (basically etchings from 'old books') into a Flickr Photostream for anyone to use. The BL have said that they are not aware of any copyright restrictions, which is probably good enough for most of the rest of us. I should add that this project, with definitely out-of-copyright images, should not be confused with scanning of 'out-of-commerce' books, which may well still be in copyright. That's a whole different ball game. The typewriter engraving above is from the BL collection and, good for them, includes title and attribution metadata.