Photographers confer on copyright and more

THE FIRST Photographers' Conference organised by the NUJ was a great success: 180 photographers attended, and the Freelance Office have had an unprecedented stream of unsolicited complimentary emails since then. "Contents, speakers lunch, biscuits, I was happy with all of it, " said one.

Highlights at London's Sadlers Wells Theatre on 27 February included a presentation from Metropolitan Police Commander Robert Broadhurst and a session on copyright with Henry Ward, a barrister specialising in the subject.


Henry Ward (standing) addresses photographers

The naïve, including some editors, may think photography is mechanical. But, Henry said, the law recognises skill in taking photos - even for apparently identical pictures you have to set up the shot.

When luck puts you in the right place at the right time - a the scene of  a car bombing, for example - experts agree choosing the instant to take a picture makes you "author" of your image. On the other hand, the rapper Jazeee featured in an album cover that was almost identical to a photo of British "hardman" Dave Courtney: same pose, same set-up. In the judge's view, such a recreation of the scene infringed copyright in the original photo.

Storing in any form, including downloading from the internet and storing on a hard drive, infringes section 17 of the Copyright and Patents Act 1988. Copying is different to producing something that is the same. You have to show that someone copied your work, not just that it's same source. That's why Ordnance Survey maps have intentional errors - "copyright traps".

Section 30 subsection 1 of the Act allows for copying for "fair dealing for criticism or review." You need  to give "sufficient acknowledgement" - the title and author of the work.

People can copy parts of works for the purpose of reporting current affairs, as it's fair dealing for "reporting news", although this doesn't usually apply to photographs. It's rarely necessary to use your exact picture to report news. This is an important protection for photographers.

Copying of extracts of work in general can also be fair dealing for the purposes of "criticism or review" - a provision intended to make it possible to review texts. It is not fair dealing if it damages the "normal exploitation" of the work - the ability to make money out of it of a copyright owner.

Newspapers have tried it on with this, for example to spoil rival papers' serialisations. When the Mail serialised the Duke and Duchess of Windsor's correspondence, the Sun made no attempt to review or criticise, they just went on about the existence of the letters, to gain readership.

Having a licence from a copyright owner is a complete defence against action for infringement - but both photographer licences need to be careful about the scope of licences.

Harry was asked if buildings can be copyrighted. Copyright subsists in architectural plans and buildings built on plans, but Section 62 of the Copyright Act has an exception for making images of buildings.

There have been attempts in Spain and US to trademark buildings, like the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Trademark is quite separate from copyright and Henry believes this approach doesn't hold water in the UK, but picture libraries are getting threatening letters from some buildings' owners and managers. Previous Olympic cities like Sydney have employed security guards to keep photographers away from various landmarks and in London, photographers report obstruction when trying to photograph City Hall. Harry said, however, that if for example you made a calendar with a photo of the Gherkin building in the City of London, purely to sell, you cold conflict with the architects' copyright.

Some photographers working for corporations and government departments have to surrender all copyright, but should they keep copies on their computers in case the client loses their copy? And then what happens if the computer is stolen, is the freelance liable?

Harry said that in court cases, "all the money is spent on evidence, proving what you thought was obvious... In relation to contractual terms, always make it explicit" - if you think the way you store information changes - bring it up in writing with your client.

Over drinks afterwards, Harry revealed that his weirdest ever copyright case centred on the words of wisdom of a 4000 year-old Egyptian priest, which was "channelled" by a medium, whose assistant wrote it down and it was made into a book. When the medium and his assistant went to court over who had copyright, the judge ruled that the ancient Egyptian's prophecy was out of copyright, but that the "artifice" - the work of writing it down - belonged to the medium's assistant. No one could explain why the prophecies were received not in the language of Ancient Egypt, but in Old English.

Metadata rules

Then a team from British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies (BAPLA) presented their work on best practice for digital standards for metadata (data about data) - as in the panels that come up on the "Get Info" feature of Photoshop.


Graeme Cookson of BAPLA points to some metadata

With digital formats, the name has dropped off the picture by the time the picture library gets it. Metadata needs to be buried inside the picture file. An estimated 68 per cent of images are not credited. Differences between versions of Photoshop mean there are too many confusing choices to fill in. BAPLA have created their own panel, downloadable from They are "trying to return to something like the three Cs of the transparency era: caption, credit and copyright."

If a client uses Photoshop's "Save to Web" function, that deletes the meta-data, which is against EU law.

Henry reminded photographers that it's "vitally important to set out the terms of the licence before this happens in your general terms and conditions... make sure your licence prevents tampering with the image".

Use the BAPLA panel to put these terms, and a prohibition on removing them from the file, into the photo file's document information section.

A show of hands revealed that a majority of photographers are using the "Get Info" panels to record copyright details on their images already.

Even the biscuits rocked

Freelance Organiser John Toner said of the conference that "most of the hard work, the hard administrative slog was down to (Assistant Freelance Organiser) Pamela Morton". The Freelance Office has since received an unprecedented number of unsolicited messages applauding the conference, with praise even for the biscuits.

Many attendees wanted the conference to be a regular event.

See also our reports on other Photographers' Conference sessions - the Know Your Rights session with Metropolitan Police Commander Richard Broadhurst - see  

We'll write up David Hoffman's advice on tracking down copyright thieves to print in the June issue.

  • More complete reports of the conference are available to NUJ members on application to the Freelance Office
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