The United Kingdom recently passed legislation that makes it permissible to use for commercial purposes works whose owners cannot be found. These so-called “orphan works” include photographs taken decades ago, the owners of which could be long dead; but they also include more recent works for which ownership can simply not be discovered by the intended user.
The UK law makes provisions for setting aside funds in case the owner is determined at a later point in time, but who’s to say how much that owner would have wanted for her family photo to become the centerpiece of an international ad campaign? (Let alone, whether she would have permitted it at all.)
The justification for “orphan works” legislation is that museums and other historical cultural institutions avoid showcasing wonderful works simple because they cannot get approvals, and they want to avoid the risk of later being sued, which makes sense. The net result is that these works remain unpublished, offering no benefit to anyone.
Feeding into this concern is that most social media sites strip embedded metadata from uploaded images. This means that even when someone does take the time to properly identify themselves in an uploaded work, that same work could be downloaded (without that metadata), uploaded by another user and, before you know it, become “orphaned.”
But don’t take my word for it. 😉 Instead, set aside an hour to listen to “The Copyright Killings,” which is a webinar I hosted that included three guests who are experts on this topic:
- Michael Steidl, Managing Director of the IPTC
- Jeff Sedlik, President and CEO of PLUS Coalition
- David Riecks, metadata advocate and owner of ControlledVocabulary.com and PhotoMetadata.org
The issue of copyright is huge, and I’m not suggesting any solution here. The rights of people who make livings from their creative works must be protected. But the value of those creative works is nullified if they cannot be enjoyed within parameters determined by their owners. This topic has exploded since the passage of this UK legislation, and similar legislation has been and will be considered elsewhere in the future.
As with many situations, the Courts have come in to settle an issue the citizens could not settle for themselves. And, as is often the case, the Court might not have come up with the ideal solution. I encourage further discussion and debate on this topic because I think it’s up to us, the Creative and Business communities, to really figure this out. I don’t believe our world does enough to encourage creativity as a profession, and the last thing I want to see happen is commercial exploits that further discourage kids from thinking they can ever make decent livings as artists.
On a side note, I want to send thanks to Picturepark for sponsoring this webinar. Though this topic has nothing to do with selling digital asset management software, the company agreed the topic was important. A lot of money and time was put into creating and advertising this webinar, and I know this is something that not a lot of other companies (particularly other DAM vendors) would have done. If you want to let Picturepark know what you think, please email email@example.com.