It’s been now been a few months since the government formally opened its Orphan Works licensing scheme. There was a very faint fanfare as they did, but that seems to have quickly gone quiet, so it’s probably time to think about the implications and what you can or should be doing.
A quick recap, if you don’t know what Orphan Works ( OW ) are. Basically an orphan is the term now being used to cover any creative work where the author ( creator ) or other Copyright holder is not identifiable. In short, you take a picture, you release it into the public domain without any credit, mark or metadata; and it very quickly becomes almost impossible to trace back to you. As of the end of October 2014 in the UK, the government has given itself, via the Intellectual Property Office ( IPO ), powers to then grant licence to that work. That means that if a request is made and certain criteria are fulfilled, they can issue a legal right to others to use your ‘orphaned’ work. The license can be issued for any output media. Perhaps the only positive is that licenses are only granted in the UK and for a single use.
So what can you do to stop this? Well, in order to have a license granted the potential user has to have completed and supplied evidence of what is referred to as a diligent search. This is, among other things, a suggested list of sources the individual or organisation requesting a license should research in order to prove that a work is, in fact, a true orphan. Having taken part in one of the working groups that advised on what a diligent search should involve, I can guarantee you that your fellow creators and representatives worked hard to make this process as inclusive as possible, giving you as much opportunity to be identified as the author of a creative work as is possible.
One of the points that was made by the working group was that OW’s should only be granted a license when no other alternative is available. In other words, that this should not be easy: find an OW on the internet and get yourself a cheap license. What it does mean is that we creators have to do our bit. It’s incredibly easy now to add essential identifying metadata to every file you create, to add a simple watermark, to make sure you have an online profile that can be traced. Okay, I know the excuses, Metadata can be stripped, watermarks are ugly or you just don’t want people finding you online. All fine, but if you don’t do something your just making life easier for a potential exploiter of your work. An important note at this point is that just because you’re identified and approached, you don’t have to license or even reply if you don’t wish, but identifying you and a means of contact should be enough to stop the ability of an OW license being issued.
So, set you’re metadata template up and apply every-time you import files, all good software has this ability now. Better still, some cameras will add very basic info at the point of capture. Now metadata can become out-of-date if you move or change studio, have to change you mobile, etc, so having a profile online is a good way of maintaining an easy to find contact reference. Based on the OW scheme, my recommendation would be either one of the major professional associations or a creators registry, like PLUS, if possible have more than one. All these organisations will be recognised sources of creator information and are more photography-specific than, say, social media. If you add a URL to one of these in your metadata you can, to the best of your ability, future-proof your attempts to be identified. Applications for OW licenses are published online, so you can check what’s being requested, but surely prevention is better.
If you decide you want to share and you don’t want the responsibility of licensing work then consider a Creative Commons ( CC ) license, but again if you do this, consider your options. There are different CC licenses, attribution will maintain your identity, in theory, with that work. You can also chose to restrict commercial use and/or derivatives, if you wish.
In the end Copyright, in my opinion, and as I have stated before, is about your choice, don’t leave it to someone else to make the choices for you.
Further links you might find useful
The Copyright Hub @CopyrightHub
PLUS Registry @PLUScoalition
Consultations from the Association of Photographers @AssocPhoto
Creative Commons definitions @creativecommons
The Intellectual Property Office links: