01 March 2010

[art] Fool Brittannia: Brit Photogs Like to Take Pix In Public? You'll Love This …

… and by love,  we mean, of course, hate. Looks like the Her Majesty's Government is out to get photographers, mostly by making copyright much harder to maintain, and by making it impossible to get pixs in public without going out and getting releases from pretty much everyone you might meet.

I don't know what it is about politicos sometimes. The Intarmets makes them crazy. I personally acknowledge that some tweaking might be necessary in the age of drag and copy, even though I think the DMCA is used more as a bludgeon than a shield, but that's what you get when you let 19th century thinkers in the 20th Century try to define the landscape of the 21st.

The DMCA has its flaws and its strengths. But if you think the DMCA is bad news, you'll probably take it in a choice between it and the UK's proposed Digital Economy Bill thats making its way through Parliament right now, though what I've read of it will do more to strangle whatever digital economy they have there – at least amongst the little guys.

This article at the web site Photoactive portrays two millstones that the Lord Mandelson is trying to hang round the necks of British photogs right now. Both are pretty obnoxious.

The first one is bad enough: it will effectively strip copyright from works photographers create unless they register each one – and each version of each one – with a government agency that is yet to be created. That runs counter to all conventional wisdom about creative ownership – and that CV seems to echo the Berne Convention, which is a fairly-commonly accepted international standard, which boils down to, essentially, when you create it, you copyright it automatically. That's a very clear, understandable, and common-sense standard that anyone can wrap their beans around and seems quite reasonable. Of course, you can't charge for that; that's probably the rub.

The second one is, if it could be possible, even worse. One of the things about taking public photos is that you don't have to get permission from everyone in the photo to publish it. There is a principle called a "reasonable expectation of privacy", which essentially boils down to if you don't want to have a picture of your face taken in public, don't show your face in public. That's why they call it public. I shudder to think of all the epochal photos of people that would never have happened if the proposed UK standard was in force anywhere … I think of The Kiss (excerpted illustration right, used under fair use) by Alfred Eisenstaedt, the famous photo of a grateful sailor bowling over a pretty nurse on V-J Day in 1945 in Times Square.

Under the Digital Economy Bill proposal, any picture taken in public will be considered to contain private information on anyone in the frame. That means you can take a picture in the street but you can't publish it unless you either pay or get a release from anyone who'd of been in the shot?

Could you do that? I couldn't. I'm willing to bet that, no matter what resources that any UK photog has, they don't have nearly enough to secure the rights to take entire street scenes. And I doubt The Kiss would have ever happened.

More locally, some time ago, PMerc's Matt Davis (if I correctly recall the sitch) snapped a picture of a fellow reclining on his stoop in NE somewhere, maybe it was up Alberta or something, and when it appeared on his blog, the subject demanded compensation.

While the area of his front porch might be physically sacrosanct, since you can be seen by God, Zeus, Horus and everyone on your front porch, you don't have the right to demand payment from anyone who happens to snap you. And the picture itself was kind of charming in a disheveled, slatternly way. How much of life would we all miss through the eyes of inspired photographers if we decided that just because you were in a public place you really were in a private one? Or how little sense that actually makes?

Of course, the Lord Mandelson probably thinks nothing of it. And Britain is, sadly, a country where there are so many CCTV cameras that even George Orwell's house is famously under scrutiny by several. And some English songwriter made a song that was about what mad dogs and Englishmen do.

Well, this law is about as daft as it gets, and that's before you even try thinking about the curtailments of civil liberties – a subject I'll leave for the reader to deduce.

As far as dogs go, this sure looks like one. It's to be hoped that cooler UK heads prevail.

You don't promote a digital economy by preventing the proles from taking part in it.

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