The Scots Law Student

The SLS : Life and trials of learning law in Scotland

Tag: copyright

Independent is a bit rubbish to photographers

19-1-10: This has now been resolved – an apology was given and an invoice for £100 is working its way through the Independent’s offices. I think that’s a good resolution – image licensing is something that the newspaper does every day after all. Congratulations to PeteZab for sticking with it to the conclusion. A lot of commentators on the flickr thread had written his chances off.


Citizen journalism is a big deal these days, and uncharitably it has been linked to the recently reduced profitability of publishing companies behind the newspaper industry. Citizen journalists don’t really know what they should be paid and professional journalists know all too well. I really don’t know what I’d ask for if a photograph I own ended up in a newspaper – £10? £1000? It all depends on the details of the case. Apparently £150 is about what an English person should “expect”, but that’s a Man-Down-The-Pub’s-guess of a figure. I have no idea about Scottish people whatsoever.

One recent example of this was the Independent running a series of pictures of the recent (it’s only just away in my area) snow. They basically just hooked, to be hip and technical, a steam from Flickr.com using the Flickr API. This is, a) an easier way for websites to embed Web 2.0 content into their own sites and, b) (according to the Independent) apparently a hidden loophole in the pretty general rules on what constitutes publishing photographs. Does publishing count as copying the image from Flickr’s servers and putting it onto an Independent server or can it include embedding it into a commercial website and surrounding it with adverts? The Pirate Bay case law provides an international opinion.

It might not seem like a big deal – a newspaper puts a slideshow of pretty pictures on its website. Except that they just embedded the slideshow, they didn’t go out and get permission to use the photographs. When one photographer noticed one of his images, to which he had reserved all rights, being used in the stream he sent off a message to the newspaper asserting his rights. This is quite right and is how these things work, you need to assert your rights or the other party will never know you’re unhappy with their behaviour.

Dear Independent,

I notice you’re using one of my images without any acknowledgement (or permission) on your website, the link is as follows,
www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/snow- in-the-uk-se…
The image is on my Flickr site at the following address and is marked as ©All rights reserved.
www.flickr.com/photos/petezab/4243266763/
I’m assuming this is an oversight; I am quite happy for you to use my image but this is, naturally, subject to the appropriate payment rate. I look forward to your response in due course.

This (I think quite reasonably) treats the issue as a transaction for image licensing, something a newspaper should be intimately familar with. Those pictures don’t get into the paper by magic. It’s not even refusing the paper retrospective permission to use the image with all the hassle that entails. Retrospective licensing is a very easy and clean way to resolve copyright infringement that never seems to be used by those suing individuals, for example RIAA v. Tenenbaum.

The reply from The Independent pretty much exemplifies why lots of people don’t like copyright these days. Here the big content company assumes that the smaller player waived his copyright by putting it online. The reverse would never be entertained – newspapers retain copyright over their online editions because that’s how copyright works and so it’s quite a clear double standard. I quite like copyright in principle but the imbalance in the scale of the players involved is one of the starkest in law.

Reply from The Independent, Sent: Thursday, January 07, 2010 5:46 PM
We took a stream from Flickr which is, as you know, a photo-sharing website. The legal assumption, therefore, is that you were not asserting your copyright in that arena. We did not take the photo from Flickr, nor present it as anything other than as it is shown there.
I do no consider, therefore, that any copyright has been breached or any payment due.

As you can see that was ten days ago and the photographer has not been paid or, indeed, any right to the photo has not been accepted. The assumption that copyright has been actively waived, instead of the probably safer (though more expensive) assumption that copyright has been passively retained, means that it pays for content that the creator notices they used (and only those with determination to fight through the bureaucracy) rather than content that they use.

My copyright experience – watermarking

More regular readers of the blog may have noticed that I have started putting the characters “4dd6465fc78a86d0987870f88dffcb9c” at the bottom of my posts, when I remember, this is because I was the victim of an RSS scraper blog which copied the entirety of my “Legal highs – Not suitable for human consumption” post including the title, which I was pretty proud of and even seemed to be reasonably original back then. It’s there so that my posts can be found by searching for this 128-bit number instead of the words which I’ve used (which are less identifying). It’s not related to my rights, it just means I can track infringements down and show they come from me. This is why people should consider watermarking images which they put online, it’s not so that you have copyright, it just helps in enforcing your copyright.

Hat tip to: Boing Boing

(Trivia: The code at the bottom of my posts is the MD5 checksum I generated from a copy of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, which I thought would be a nice geeky touch.)

4dd6465fc78a86d0987870f88dffcb9c

Obsolete technology lives on

I spotted an article from the 17 July 2009 on the Times website on places where you might not expect obsolete technology to have held on.

For example, says the article, the NYPD spent $432,900 on typewriter maintenance last year (and nearly $1 million the year before).  They use typewriters to fill out forms – for seized property mainly – and for backup in case a catastrophe takes the digital side of the force off-line.

I completely agree with this idea, it’s a very good one.  I’ve got into the habit of often filling out forms on my typewriter because it’s capable of black capitals and it’s neater than I could previously manage.  I also typewrite the addresses on my postal envelopes.

Other technologies in the list include tapes (audio cassettes) which are used in prisons in the US because CDs are often banned because they make such effective weapons if shattered.  The story reports that cassette sales to inmates is one of the few growth areas in a physical media music industry that is in decline.

Another example is the telegram – something I admire as an event more than as a means of communication, just imagine if the Queen sent you a text on your 100th birthday?  This one is very interesting from a legal perspective because in the USA if you send a telegram with some juicy piece of intellectual property to anyone, even yourself, you can use the date and time on the telegram as evidence in a copyright trial.  This is a good stop gap measure while you are waiting for any formal copyright processes to be completed.  It is also a useful means of extremely quick recorded message delivery, useful for contractual purposes.

One final point for me microfiche.  I think microfiche is one of those products that are fun until you have to use it. I quite like, now and again, reading the newspapers from historical events and these are now generally only available on microfiche simply because of the size savings.  That sort of interesting and different way to spend an afternoon in the library would very quickly lose its charm if I needed the information, and particularly if I needed it quickly.  Keyword search may not be perfect but you’d miss it if it was gone.

I think that technology is only obsolete when it is no longer useful to you.  Typewriters, audio cassettes and microfiche are all perfectly effective at what they do, they were replaced because the alternatives had benefits but that doesn’t mean they stopped working at the same time.

http://timesonline.typepad.com/comment/2009/07/10-places-where-old-technology-lives-on.html

Student Law Review

I dropped by my law school this week on the way to the library and picked up a copy of the current student law magazines while I was there.

The Student Law Review, published by Routledge Cavendish is a publication bordering on the “terrifyingly polished” and I find it to be a very interesting read that I try to pick up whenever I can.

I’ve done a quick and rough digest of the contents of this edition, and it’s a very, very long post so I’ve added it after the break. I will be back later to fact check but right now I’m just impressed at myself for getting this typed up. These are in no way the whole articles, or indeed perfect outlines of the articles themselves, I was more interested in putting out what the publication covers instead of violating the copyright on the articles themselves:

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