back to article British Library defends flogging of orphaned artwork

MPs heard a spirited debate about digital rights this week – including the digital rights you might or might not have as an amateur creator. Big media companies would like the freedom to use artwork they find on the web without having to worry about lawsuits or negotiating market rates with creators. The web is awash with …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Privatisation looming?

    Is the BL looking to expand its empire and portfolio prior to its privatisation?

  2. El Presidente

    Removing metadata copyright statements is a criminal offence under UK and US law. Ben White doesn't come across as arrogant, he is arrogant. He's a glaring example of a tax payer funded institution fronting a salaried person with vested interests, attempting to force a situation which could seriously damage the lives and interests of thousands of other (tax paying) people. The worst bit ? Ben White isn't your archetypal clueless bureaucrat, he knows exactly what he's doing.

    1. Grease Monkey

      While removing copyright statements may constitute an offence, that is not the major issue.

      Let's imagine you have an image from which the copyright statement has been removed. In order for you to be prosecuted there would have to be proof that you had removed the copyright statement yourself. If that proof could not be obtained then it would be up to the copyright owner to prove that they were indeed the owner of the copyright.

      What we need is legislation that clearly states that any publisher must be able to prove that they have made a reasonable effort to find the owner of the work. It would also be an idea to say that should a publisher should pay something like five times the royalty if they publish something which is copyright without making a reasonable effort to find the copyright owner.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Please distinguish "prosecuted" from "sued"

        Absolutely no way do we want the US concept of "punitive damages" introduced into English law. Damages should only compensate for the genuine loss suffered by the victim. If perpetrators need to be punished, use criminal law and a fine. Otherwise ... well, just look at the US legal system if you want to see what can happen.

        It doesn't help that Register reporters frequently can't tell the difference between "damages" and a "fine".

        1. El Presidente


          "Should only compensate for the genuine loss suffered by the victim" -

          Where's the incentive to be honest ?

          You go into Tesco, load up your trolley with goods and leave. You get caught and the only consequence is that you have to pay market value for the goods. You will immediately see that the odds are in your favour and you will continue to shoplift.

          Conversely, if you know that when you get caught you will have to pay DOUBLE what it would have cost you to obtain the goods legitimately, plus costs, then the odds are obviously stacked against you.

          There's a clear incentive to make an honest purchase at cost price.

        2. Tom 13

          It's not the "punitive damages" concept you don't want,

          in fact, that might actually be beneficial. What you don't want is the American legal idea of "I won the lottery!" if the defendant has deep pockets. Of course, they don't use those words exactly and do frequently hide behind "punitive damages" and "pain and suffering."

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Indeed, if Mr White wants to have access to my digital rights "for the greater good" then I'll reserve the right to do that to everyone else including but not limited to Warner Bros, Sony Music, etc. You can't call someone a pirate for downloading a song whilst simultaneously shafting them over a photograph they took.

  3. Jolyon Ralph

    Stripping metadata

    Although I wouldn't put it past Facebook to be doing this deliberately, most websites that accept image contributions are going to want to resize and possibly reduce JPEG quality of images to optimize filesize and therefore their bandwidth requirements - simple techniques for doing this (such as using the PHP GD library) don't automatically preserve the metadata from the original image

    1. El Presidente

      "Although I wouldn't put it past Facebook to be doing this deliberately, most websites that accept image contributions are going to want to resize and possibly reduce JPEG quality of images to optimize filesize and therefore their bandwidth requirements" - Most websites which use images do so for their own benefit, to increase the value of their own site to advertisers. That's good business but purposefully removing the metadata is still a criminal offence. Purposefully removing metadata demonstrates ignorance of the law and total disrespect for the individual who created the image that the site owners wishes to use to add value to their site. If the image is good enough to use to add value then it's worth paying for.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If you want consistent results you have to strip metadata

      Stuff relating to colourspaces, image orientation, etc, will inevitably be interpreted differently by different software, so if you want your JPEG to work the same everywhere you remove that stuff. Rather than maintain a list of fields that might be dangerous it's easiest to remove everything. OK, so you could have made a special exception for a field that gives the name of the photographer, but I can understand them not bothering, especially since in most cases there isn't such a field.

      In any case, it's not as if newspapers and other print media preserve the metadata ...

      1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

        Re: Consistent results

        I think you have it the wrong way around. If you remove the information that tells you what colour "55, 128, 77" is from the metadata, how does the application displaying the picture what colour to use for "55, 128, 77"?

        Have a look at this page to see what happens if the application doesn't know how to display the picture:

        Before you say that everyone should use sRGB because that is what you use, not everyone does. We use a mixture of sRGB (sometimes for small web pics), AdobeRGB (often for web photos) and ProfotoRGB (all internal workflows). Also my friend can't tell the difference between red & green; so perhaps he should say everyone should stop using red & green?

    3. JimC

      > doing it deliberately

      Maybe its semantics, but I would say that if you implement code that strips away metadata than you are doing it deliberately. I don't think it really matters whether that was your prime intention or simply because you couldn't be bothered to put code in to preserve the metadata.

  4. John G Imrie

    This title © 2011 John G Imrie

    Orphan That!

  5. Tom 7 Silver badge

    so why should you not participate in that value?

    1) you might not want to - and that's why you used copyright (that specifically prevents unauthorised publication) to protect your work rather that employ an office of very expensive lawyers to do the same.

    2) That value may be due to its uniqueness - if its mass reproduced its value is taken away.

    1. Christoph Silver badge

      3) You might have a photo of a personal memory that you want to share with friends by uploading it - but *NOT* want that personal memory to be used to back a news story or an advertising campaign so that some stranger can make money out of it.

      Isn't it amazing how copyright rights of big companies mean the law must be changed to trample the rights of individuals in favour of the big companies, while copyright rights of individuals mean the law must be changed to trample the rights of individuals in favour of the big companies,

  6. Semaj


    I don't see why amateur photographers who actually care about this don't just put a ruddy great watermark over the stuff they upload and freely give out and avoid uploading high res versions. Fair enough if the mark gets shopped out then they could be annoyed but I bet it would be more hassle than it's worth for a paper to do that (especially with the level of shop skill shown by most papers).

    Don't flame me please, I actually would like to know why they don't do this.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      This amateur does exactly that.

    2. El Presidente

      more hassle than it's worth for a paper to do that

      Not so. What usually happens is that the byline/watermark/identifier is placed by the photographer bottom right or left so as not to detract from the picture. It is then a simple matter for anyone to crop out the 'offending' byline in the stupid assumption that if the byline is not there, no one will recognise the picture. Have a look at the UK's leading online 'news' web site. That particular practice is rife.

      A whacking great © in the middle of the image may deter unauthorised use but will also ruin the picture and why would anyone proud of any image they've produced have to ruin it to prevent it being nicked ?

      1. Mme.Mynkoff

        Good point

        Why should someone ruin their work with a ruddy great big watermark?

        It means we can't enjoy the picture. It's like leaving a poo in your car overnight, in the hope it deters car thieves.

  7. Pete Jenkins

    What an excellent report. Thank you

  8. Dazed and Confused

    I like the idea of orphaned works :-)

    I found all these movie files on the web, I honestly don't have a clue who they belong too, and it would be far to much shag and hassle to try and find out, so I'll just use them for free. Sounds perfect.

    Does it work with audio files too?

  9. BristolBachelor Gold badge

    Facebook / BBC action illegal?

    "Facebook and the BBC are able to strip metadata from photographs that are uploaded to the site en masse"

    IANAL but I read that it is illegal under UK law to alter the copyright information in a photograph if it is done to deprive the rights-holder (Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 2003). Now, if I upload my photograph to those sites and put metadata in the photograph so that I may receive recognition and claim my ownership. Regardless if I was going to charge a fee for that particular photograph or not, it's still my right to want recognition, and the BBC is deliberately depriving me of those rights if I upload a picture, and they tamper with the copyright meta data.

    Now as it happens, I don't use Facebook, and don't upload pictures to the BBC because I don't agree with their terms, but that is beside the point.

    1. Tom 38 Silver badge

      As I understand it, it is your choice whether to upload photos to the BBC. Doing so implicitly accepts their terms, which specifically allow them to do this.

      A company doing something that you have expressly assigned rights for them to do is unlikely to be considered illegal.

      1. Tom 13

        Yeah, that's the PR line they feed the average sap when asked.

        But if there's real money involved and you take them to court, the judge will explain exactly how illegal and non-binding that agreement is. Essentially, if you have no option to modify the agreement, the agreement has to conform to laws that protect the rights of the little guy. That sort of en-masse forfeiture is frowned upon.

  10. Solomon Grundy


    Having had quite a few of my photographs published and even a gallery show in Boston once, I can assure you that putting a photo on Facebook does not make you a published photographer.

    1. Pete Jenkins

      of course in the professional sense you are correct. But from a legal point of view and from the point of view of the real world and the development of digital imaging and the world wide web, publication ion a Facebook page is publication, and is open to exactly the same sort of theft and misuse as an image published in more traditional media.

      In fact, it is often far too easy to steal online imagery such as that seen on Facebook sites, and some major publishers (a particular UK national newspaper spring to mind) are caught doing it time and time again.

      Someone publishing on Facebook ostensibly for the entertainment of their immediate circle of friends should not have to risk theft by anyone...

  11. Anonymous Coward

    unintended consequences of newzbin case

    read all about it:

    precis is that govt cannot legislate creators rights away as to do so would be contrary to Article 1 of the First Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights

  12. Evil Weevil

    So when the boot is on the other foot....

    .....big business don't like copyright or the hassle of finding out who owns something.

    Can amateur creators get ISPs to block access to big business websites via the mechanisms established by *IAA cartels ?

    As long as the time period of creator's death + extra years their heirs get to make dosh from that work is observed, then anyone including the British Library can make moolah from it.

  13. PyLETS

    tracing dead and unknown photographers is a crazy task

    "big publishers, who complain long and hard about internet piracy, suddenly twig the financial benefits of rolling over copyright."

    My first thought was, they would wouldn't they ? But this also applies to micro creative enterprise because for many kinds of creative work, new work requires reuse of old work.

    The obligation to attempt to trace owners is especially onerous for anyone attempting to present historical information, where the lifetime of photographer plus 50 years is impossible to determine. This leads to a litigation minefield where large publishers have the assets to self insure, but small publishers have to risk losing their business or homes over reuse of a 100 year old photograph with photographer unknown and untraceable. The maximum cost, if the owner ever turns up, should be proportionate to the profit which is made.

    Also much better to allow creative enterprise to be able to quantify risk by having a fixed and shorter copyright based upon the date of the image in question, not based upon when an unknown photographer died.

  14. Rampant Spaniel

    Thieving gits.

    As a photographer I have a huge issue with the concept that publishers can use my work without my consent after only a trivial attempt to contact me. Work is easily orphaned these days. People taking shots in galleries, screen scrapes, scans of albums, FB etc

    As a creator I have a right to control how and if my work is used by others (outside of fair use). If I desire my work not be used by a company I do not like or for a cause I disagree with I should have the right to control that. The concept that I should be forced to sell my work to anyone who wants it or forgo any right to protection is bonkers.

    This is simply a bunch of talentless muppets who want more for less, ideally free if they can wangle it) and no consequences. In any other industry it wouldn't be tolerated but photography is not a rich business and there are far too many 'one person bands', so we risk being trampled by large companies with deep pockets.

  15. moiety

    Look; we as a society either copyright the living fuck out of everything until several generations after the creator's death or we make copyright reasonable and everyone throws something into the communal pot. You can't have it both ways.

  16. Rampant Spaniel

    Or we have a sensible system that respects content creators. With photography we are not talking about life and death, this isn't drug patents. We are talking about photographer who don't want their work to be used for things they don't agree with (how would you like your work to be used by the BNP or Republican Party against your wishes) or in a manner that reflects badly on your work (I.e. poorly reproduced).

    This is nothing more than a cynical rights grab. Every important event from Noah's balls dropping is captured in woodcut, oil, photo, video etc and can be had for a pretty damn reasonable cost from the likes of getty. The problem is media companies think why pay $xx-$xxx when you can legally take it for free and hope nobody notices and hey if they do the penalty is less than you'd have paid in the first place.

    It's not like we withhold use in the vast majority of cases or charge high fees, stock is cheaper now than it ever has been. They just want free.

  17. Jonathan Richards 1

    Creators of orphans...

    ...that would be either parent-murderers or child-abductors, then. Take your pick, BL. In your own time....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Or time, or cancer in my case, or... if you want to be obtuse about it.

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