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Freedom of Panorama #saveFoP

Blacked out London-Eye-2009

The copyright status of photographs such as this would be in question if the amendment were passed into law. By Kham Tran – www.khamtran.com (Derived from File:London-Eye-2009.JPG) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This is a copy of the email I sent my MEPs earlier this week in response to a proposal to restrict Freedom of Panorama in the UK (signpost piece, very good and drawn on heavily in my letter).

I don’t think the letter is perfect (e.g. it could be snappier, and I’ve not nailed the points clearly enough) but it may be useful to others and it was what I could pull together in some free time :-).  I’d very much welcome clear references to the key points here, in the comments or via @sjgknight

Some context

Mary Honeyball (Labour MEP) amongst others is suggesting that creatives (e.g. designers or architects of public buildings and artworks) should, where money is made from their work, be ‘credited’ drawing analogy with things like creation of youtube videos in which permissions must be sought for reuse of copyright material.

Of course, as a believer in Creative Commons Licensing, I couldn’t agree more – people should be credited, that’s exactly what ‘cc-by’ is for. However, crediting need not require individually seeking permissions from each rights holder, and it certainly need not require the payment of licensing fees. The UKIP Culture spokesperson gives a good argument on this in the Daily Politics pointing out the extra costs this will introduce on a longstanding freedom in the UK, and the impact of that on creative endeavour. As I note below, such changes in the law also have potential to restrict the rights of ordinary citizens in sharing their content in ways that might have commercial impact. It is absurd to copyright the panorama, and all the more so when such restriction would be newly introduced to this country, at a time when we are in other areas developing more sophisticated means of fairly sharing knowledge (e.g. lifting of restrictions for purposes of data mining).

Sometimes people are unsure why commercial reuse of materials should be allowed, in addition to the concerns above (e.g. re: personal use of photography on commercial websites), these links describe some of the concerns around this decision (although they are not terribly snappy)

The letter

On 16 June, the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament adopted an amendment to a report on copyright reform prepared by Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda under which the parliament:

16. Considers that the commercial use of photographs, video footage or other images of works which are permanently located in physical public places should always be subject to prior authorisation from the authors or any proxy acting for them;

On July 9th, the amended text is due to be voted on by the European Parliament when it considers the full text of the Reda report in its plenary session. I am writing to ask you to vote against endorsing the text approved by the Legal Affairs Committee. Additionally, prior to July 1st a group of 75 MEPs can table another amendment to change/delete the accepted one, I would strongly encourage you to partake in such coordinated action.

***Background***

This stance is a serious encroachment on a long-standing legal right in the UK, that of ‘freedom of panorama’ – that the skyline and the public scene should belong to everybody. This alteration would prevent photographers from creating images of public spaces without permission/royalties, it restricts sharing of personal – including holiday – photos via commercial websites (such as facebook), and it will have a chilling effect on the creation of ‘open knowledge’ resources – including Wikipedia.

The commercial benefit to the restriction, should it be passed into law, will fall to a very small number of rights cases, while the cost both in terms of the ability to share images of our cultural heritage and in terms of restrictions on commercial outputs, will be high. The status of existing books published without such clearances would become unclear; most Wikipedia images depicting public art would be lost; and it would become very much more difficult and more expensive to publish future books comprehensively illustrating architecture and public art.
The amendment stands in opposition to the aims to improve the “digital single market”. Indeed, the recommendation of the MEPs on the Internal Market Committee, which had an advisory role to the Legal Affairs Committee in the matter, was that such photography should be allowed across the EU.

In the UK and Ireland, these freedoms have been enshrined in law since the Copyright Act 1911, which set out copyright exceptions, and is currently reflected in section 62 of the UK Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. This amendment will introduce a new restriction to UK and other EU member state’s copyright laws, one that is neither warranted nor desired. The amendment is likely to be unenforceable in practical terms, but creates a high burden and level of uncertainty particularly for individuals and SMEs. Reda’s report was met with broad support from cultural heritage, industry, and rights groups; this unnecessary and restrictive amendment should not be passed.


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