Comic Creators voice protest to proposed UK copyright law changes

(Updated 9/7/12 with comments from various creators about the plans)

Comic creators are raising concerns about changes afoot to copyright law in the UK, effectively stripping away long held rights and potentially handing the handling of your copyrighted creations to new ‘colllecting agencies’.

The new legislative measures to update the UK’s copyright licensing system were announced last week, which the British government claims will “help strengthen the system and boost its contribution to the economy and society.”

New clauses primarily drafted to address the problem of ‘orphan works’ material where the original creator might be unknown, will now be included in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, currently being discussed in Parliament.

The proposals, if approved, would:

  • allow the creation of a future ‘orphan works’ scheme to open access to valuable material that currently can’t be licensed or used
  • put in place a voluntary regime for extending collective licensing to help reduce complexities in the system
  • reserve a power to introduce statutory codes of conduct for collecting societies if they fail to operate to minimum standards.

The proposed changes are complex, but essentially would remove an automatic right to copyright.

This isn’t DownTheTubes usual area, but I feel it’s an important matter for all British comic creators who might be reading this.

Whatever your view, you should not ignore what is being cooked up by our government.

The actual proposals are outlined here on the Intellectual Property Office web site (PDF):

Writing for tech site The Register, Andrew Orlowski argues photographers, illustrators and authors will be amongst those to lose their digital rights under the radical new proposals published by the Government today.

“New legislation is proposed that would effectively introduce a compulsory purchase order, but without compensation, across an unlimited range of creative works, for commercial use,” he notes. “Millions of amateurs who today post their images to Flickr and automatically receive the full protection of the law, would also lose, unless they opted-out.

“The changes involve orphan works reform – floated as Clause 43 of the Digital Economy Act in 2010 but killed off by photographers – and an Extended Collective Licensing (ECL) program. The white paper follows intense lobbying by the culture sector and large corporate users of copyright works, such as Google, who wish to lower their costs.”

Comic creator Jim Campbell has started a petition protesting at the proposed changes.

“I’m not a lawyer, and I’m certainly not an expert on copyright, so I would urge you to read the government’s consultation document and form your own opinion,” he says. “The document, in so far as I understand it, raises a number of areas of concern.

“The proposed changes to the law on orphaned works will mean that all works where the copyright holders are unknown or uncontactable will be assumed to be available for commercial exploitation,” he argues, “and the rights to do so will be left in the hands of ‘collecting societies’ who will be able to negotiate licenses to use material without the express permission of the material’s creators.

“This represents a fundamental reversal of creators’ current rights under copyright law and requires creators to explicitly assert their rights over material or face losing those rights. The government is quick to defend the intellectual property rights of big business and should do no less on behalf of the individuals and smaller creative organisations who contribute so much to the country’s economy and character.”

Signees so far include Dave Gibbons, John Ridgway and many other key British comic creators.

“I already see far too many instances of creative work being plundered for profit,” notes comic creator Simon Coleby. “This legislation serves only to legitimise that unethical and unfair practice, and is only in the interests of those who wish to unscrupulously benefit from other peoples’ creativity.”

“What I create is mine to pass to those I want it to go to, not to have it stolen by suits who are allowed to say they have “searched dilligently but in vain” for the copyright holder,” argues John Ridgway.

“These changes skew things far too much in favour of big corporations who already have the resources and legal muscle to protect their interests,” feels Roger Langridge, “effectively allowing them to exploit small companies and individuals with the full protection of the law. It’s just wrong.”

“This was something I was very active with when the Orphan Rights Bill was being forced through the US Government a while ago,” says comcic creator and publisher Tim Perkins. “Creative people have rights and this is yet another example of corporate and super-rich greed. Orphaned works can be obtained if the Canadian example is employed. This is just another lazy way for legislation to grab “Real” orphaned works and make it so that larger corporations and publishers can ‘Steal’ new works as well, knowing most creative people could never sustain any real amount of protection!”

Announcing the changes, Business Minister Norman Lamb said: “It is vital that we make the most of our creative industries, boosting their contribution to the economy while ensuring protection of the rights holders. The copyright licensing system has been behind the times and we need to modernise and make it fit for the 21st century.

“The measures we plan to introduce as soon as possible would make it easier for those seeking access to, and use of, copyrighted works. Freeing up so-called ‘orphan works’ will allow use of works for the first time, making the most of untapped economic and creative potential. Extending licensing arrangements for collective societies, whilst ensuring rights holders are protected, will also help maximise the benefit for the UK’s world-class creative industries.”

The draft clauses will be subject to scrutiny as part of the Bill’s progress through Parliament. These measures were developed by Government in response to recommendations from the Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property, which was published in August 2011, which is broken down into somethingsome folk may be able to better get their heads around on the blog for Action on Authors’ Rights.

You can read Jim Campbell’s thoughts on the proposals here on his blog

View Jim’s petition against the proposals 

• The Government’s policy statement: Consultation on modernising copyright (PDF, 406Kb) is available on the Intellectual Property Office website

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