Thursday, 8 April 2010
I think it is only right that on this glorious spring day, with blue skies and the gentlest white clouds, I should give thanks, not to God or family, but to a small group of focussed, intelligent and tenacious individuals, from various professional photography organisations, who have just defeated the British Government and their ill-conceived, unjust and downright greedy Digital Economy Bill.
This group (mainly photographers themselves) and primarily figure-headed by Paul Ellis (aka the Digital Plumber) have given up almost a month of their time, jeopardising their own businesses, to lead the Stop43 Campaign. They took up the cudgel on our behalf and motivated and inspired over 21,000 letters and e-mails from fellow photographers to their relevant MPs. They sat in meetings with government ministers, they lobbied MPs, they rang MPs, they created the Stop43 website which handed out news, updates and advice to all those who needed to know what action could be taken. They met and collaborated with professional organisations including Editorial Photographers UK, Pro Imaging, Association of Photographers amongst others, and notably had the astute fighting prowess of Gwen Thomas, CEO of the AOP.
They ran the whole campaign using a few laptops, a universal website Stop43, and masses of voluntary time. What they have proved, is that up against apparently insurmountable odds, a small group of unified people with a focussed, passionate vision for something, can create change. However I also recognise that this bill was so full of stupid holes that it gave this group plenty to ridicule and pull apart, which helped :-)
What was the DEB ? It was a very large bill encompassing everything from music, video, literature and of course photography. It was brought in to 'release' masses of old imagery stored in museums, galleries and archives, for publication. In principle most of us didn't oppose this BUT the companies doing the publishing stood to make big money out of all of this off the back of other people's intellectual property, which just like a house, passes to the family after death. Atop this, the bill didn't specify 'which' images, or from what era, and in doing so opened up the chance for anyone's photographs, amateur or professional, to be lifted from the web and claimed to be from an unknown user. The potential was therefore created for any companies to start making money for nothing, using the work of modern day photographers whose work could be deliberately stolen. The government failed to recognise that even a child has the ability to strip metadata and therefore create an 'orphaned' image. I listened to some of the debate on "Live in Parliament' and heard the MP for Glasgow say that he didn't like that situation at present where kids could be seen as criminals for 'sharing' copyrighted music, films and photographs. Well if we can on the one hand say that kids know what they are doing when they are bullying, littering, swearing, carrying out arson, vandalism and so on, then they equally need to know that stealing people's livelihoods is illegal and unethical. Just because many people do illegally steal from the internet, adults and children, doesn't make it right.
So thankfully, Clause 43 has been dropped even though we all thought it would go through unopposed, though the rest of the bill has been passed by a large majority! Many MPs of all parties (even Labour) actually voted against it, surprisingly, and it was a genuine comfort to know that so many ministers DID take on board what all these artists, photographers and image creators had rightly been so concerned about.
It is only a short reprieve of course, because the next and potentially even more frightening prospect in an Orwellian kind of way, is the proposal to ban photography of people's faces, under the Data Protection Act, which would immediately halt all outdoors photography where people could be seen ! Landscape photography, street photography, festival photography, music photography, sports photography EVERYTHING would be prevented, simply because people's faces could be seen! Though on the surface, they only want to ban professionals from taking pictures and the guy hanging around the airport with an iPhone will be allowed to do so!
Personally, once again, I see this backfiring against the government even more quickly than Clause 43, as it is totally unworkable and our media would change beyond recognition. No magazine articles, little press coverage, no lifestyle or editorial coverage, no street photography, candids, no beach scenes, travel and tourism photography and so on. Think I'm being paranoid ? Not in the least, there have already been public and logged cases of photographers being beaten up by members of the pubic who already think that taking their photograph is illegal, and policeman who have tried to stop amateurs and pros from taking pictures in public, only to be covered in egg when back at the station the officers themselves find they actually have NO right to stop a citizen photographing in public. We are living in a very paranoid and very scary world, where everyone interprets the law to suit themselves, and some even take their incorrect understanding of the law into their own hands!
Watch this space for the next major campaign against government short sightedness and stupidity.
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© Glyn Davies 2010 unless otherwise marked.
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