Photo Contest Insider Blog

New UK law makes robbery legal

April 30, 2013

That got your attention didn’t it – and with good reason.

The UK Parliament has just passed a highly controversial law that has been met with outrage across the photography world.

The new Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act allows all so-called ‘orphaned’ work to be used for free. That’s right – photographs and other creative work can be used without explicit permission if the owner cannot be contacted.

All the infringer has to do is prove they performed a “diligent search.”

Most worryingly of all, the law also applies to images that have no metadata. As we know, the majority of websites and social media sites strip out all metadata. Bingo! For the next individual or corporation that comes along, it’s free.

This extraordinary change in the law drives a horse and cart through copyright protection. Before it was illegal to exploit a copyright work without the permission of its owner: now it is legal.

What does ‘diligent’ mean?
The exact workings of the new legislation are yet to be formalised and the full text of the act is not published until Thursday (2 May) so we do not yet know exactly what that vague term “diligent search” means.

Apparently, the searches would have to be verified as diligent by independent authorising bodies. In addition, organisations would have to pay a “market rate” to use orphan works so rights holders could be recompensed for the use of the works if they were later identified.

And just in case you weren’t quite sure just whose side this law is on, it also allows future reforms to exceptions to copyright to be delivered far more easily, through new regulations rather than new Acts of Parliament.

Global fall-out
In a global digital world this law has implications that stretch far beyond the borders of the UK.

As the British Press Photographers’ Association pointed out, this is: “A seemingly innocuous clause in an otherwise largely uncontroversial piece of legislation that will not only harm our industry but also place this country at odds with a vital international treaty.”

Indeed, the law has caught the particular attention of US photographers. In a letter to business minister Vince Cable, whose Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is behind the act, six groups representing US photographers and graphic artists say it breaches international law and warn it will have costly consequences.

Moral rights

At home, UK Photography’s biggest celebrity, David Bailey, has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne MP on behalf of all owners and creators of intellectual property.

He says: “This legislation should never have been even considered without first giving us our moral rights, and is contrary to our right under the Berne Convention.”

The campaign against this law is growing. In the meantime, the only way to protect yourself completely is to register all your images or take them offline completely.


Update: An e-petition has been created here


  • Donald Grant

    It is just corporate theft, and should never have seen the light of day. Think ther is something more sinister going on. But me I am highly suspicious of government anyway. Would not trust them to switch a light off.
    P.S I am just an amateur, but would still rather be paid for a great shot than have it nicked and someone else take the credit.

  • Andrew Owen

    Great, the diligent side of things really needs to be clarified, its hard enough trying to secure work online from downloads with this legislation now making it legal to make my hard work free to anyone that chooses.

    Looks like i may just keep hard copy and anyone wanting to view my work will have to make an appointment with me first, which is going to seriously affect how i market and showcase my business and also have a knock on effect of how much time I have for completing assignments.

  • Paul Torrente

    Ludricrous; liable to deprive many of their rightful earnings.

  • peter juerges

    I cannot believe the stupidity…some kid digitally copies a piece of music and get slapped with an expensive law suit whilst any cowboy can steal my on line photo catalogue and that is somehow acceptable…its a total nonsense…even THIS government must be able to see the stupidity here! This needs to be challenged and challenged NOW!

  • While I agree that this so called “law” is despicable there are a couples of things we can do to protect our photographs. Create a visible watermark on each photo you publish online even in social media. Secondly downsize the shot to something like 600×600 pixels. Together, both these options will help to make any unauthorised use of your shot unrealistic.

  • Greg Norris

    What a disgusting state of affairs. No doubt, big business has greased the palms of the few needed in the House of Lords to ensure this ludicrous law is passed. never mind my rights under Australian Copyright Laws.

  • Joshua Cope

    As Barry Miller has said, watermarking your work and downsizing the photo are the first steps to tackle this.

    However, lets not confuse ‘right to use without permission’ and ‘copyright’ with each other – from reading this the law SEEMS to allow people to use the images for free but not claim them as their own.

    Facebook will be a bugger for this as people can download and re-upload images without sharing your files, but it doesn’t get rid of all the metadata – my e-mail address still shows up in the description bar on upload.

  • Erik

    I will not be uploading anymore of my work. I hope that the US does stand up and put their foot down, but I doubt it especially when they can’t figure out who the real tax cheats are.

  • Vivian Bedoya

    A really bad idea and one that impacts people on a global scale! Our images posted on Facebook pages are ripe for the picking.

  • Dan

    I think this is a novel idea… If we work for free, so should the Government that passed these immoral laws should!

  • ccatling

    I wouldn’t mind betting that somewhere in the raft of laws from the European Union, there will be something to contradict and therefore override this idiotic legislation. Let’s hope so. I hate it when Governments try to pass legislation under the radar like this. Outrageous behaviour. If they want us to become a nation of entrepreneurs then they need to give us incentive – allowing theft of intellectual property in this way will certainly not encourage those of us who choose to make a living from photography.