British law on the rights associated with photographs uploaded to social media sites have changed with the passing of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act.
The bill – dubbed by some the ‚Instagram Act‘ – received royal assent on April 25 and it is claimed that it permits the commercial exploitation of photos uploaded to sites like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr, as such sites routinely strip out the metadata associated with images
Without this identifying data, these photos are classed as „orphan images“ – where the information on ownership and copyright is missing or removed.
According to the new law, „diligent“ effort must be made to find the creator of an image before it is commercially exploited without payment or credit, but sites including T3 and The Register have argued that this becomes difficult or impossible with the metadata stripped.
On passing the act, business minister Jo Swinson said: „The measures in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act will support the UK’s enterprise culture and help make it one of the best places to do business.“
The press release for the act states: „For the first time orphan works will be licensed for use; these are copyrighted works for which the owner of the copyright is unknown or can’t be found. There will also be a system for extended collective licensing of copyright works.“
This measure has been introduced with the goal of supporting growth and to „modernise the UK’s copyright regime to promote innovation in the design industry, encouraging investment in new products while strengthening copyright protections“.
Critics note that sub-licensing is also permitted under the act, meaning that firms who source so-called orphan images will be able to sell on the images without paying the original creator.
Photographer David Bailey has written a letter to chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne to oppose the move.
„Social media, and everyone else for that matter routinely strip our names and contact details from our digital files,“ Bailey explained.
„They simply should not be allowed to get away with this. They can because our government refuses to give us the right to our names by our pictures (Moral rights).
„So now commercial organisations will be allowed to make money from our ‚orphans‘, but not us, the creators.“