UK Intellectual Property Office responds on ‘abolition of copyright’ law


The UK Intellectual Property Office has issued a ‘myth-busting’ document about the effect on photographers of a newly-introduced law. The law includes new rules regulating the use of ‘orphan works’ – intellectual property whose copyright holder cannot be identified. This has led to concern that the changes will allow UK companies to use copyright material from anywhere in the world without the approval of the copyright holder.

The British Government’s stated intention is to create a mechanism for old works to be published and made available to the public, once it becomes unfeasible to establish the original owner (such as the documents in a museum’s collection). Critics suggest that the law allows companies to legally publish and profit from copyright work without the creator’s consent (with some suggesting it effectively abolishes copyright in the UK or allows internet companies to profit from images without metadata).

UK Tech Blog The Register has put forward one extreme perspective on the rules. Among its stated concerns:

  • Power will shift ‘away from citizens and towards large US corporations’.
  • The Act will permit ‘the widespread commercial exploitation’ of ‘most digital images on the Internet’.
  • Although you must perform a ‘diligent search’ for an image’s creator, ‘this is likely to come up with a blank’ and as such, ‘a user of a work can act as if they are the owner of the work […] if they’re given permission to do so by the Secretary of State’.
  • Once someone has obtained permission to use an ‘orphaned image’ they can then sub-license it.

The UK Intellectual Property Office’s document responds to many of its assertions – with a particular focus on the effects on photographers.

It points out that an independent body would have to verify every attempt to classify a work as an orphan work – including proof that a ‘diligent search’ has been made to identify the copyright holder before a license could be granted. It also points out that it will usually be easier to identify and pay for an alternative image where the author can be found, rather than going through the process of gaining an orphan work license.

Where has this come from?

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, signed into law on April 25th, includes rules covering orphaned works. Similar rules had already been removed from an earlier bill, in response to complaints from photographers, who interpreted it as a rights grab.

The Act has now been published, and can be downloaded as a PDF (Section 77, on page 68 of the document). It takes the form of ‘enabling legislation’ – broad definitions of law that require the fine details to be added later (but without a parliamentary vote – a factor that has concerned some critics, including The Register).

The current law is a framework that specifies what considerations the final regulations must cover, such as who can qualify as a license granting body and where the money raised from such licenses will go. Viscount Younger of Leckie, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, has said there will be consultation to determine the fine details and that ‘the provision for orphan work licensing will be construed restrictively by the courts.’

The Royal Photographic Society and the British Copyright Council are among those meeting Viscount Younger in June to discuss these details.

Have you been following the debate about the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act in the UK? What do you think? Let us know in the comments.  



Warped sense of logic.

Greg Lovern

When wonderful old works, who’s current copyright holder can’t be located and may not even know that they inherited the copyright, can’t be published without risking multi-million dollar settlements, the culture is impoverished. That’s how it is today now that the copyright law pendulum has swing far, far over to the side of protecting creators.

It’s possible to provide reasonable protection to new creators without disappearing the works of wonderful old creators who’s current copyright holder can’t be found. But finding that balance requires that new creators be required to put some minimal effort into registering their works.

Works can be registered in aggregate, as in a large set of photographs or the entire contents of a magazine.

Greg Lovern


The requirement to register creative works to get copyright protection worked fine for a long time. The notion that copyright protection should never require the slightest effort of any kind on the part of the creator, and that it should last forever, is a recent invention that would startle the creators of 100 years ago.

At the turn of the 20th Century, creators got only 14 years of protection — IF they registered, with the option of another 14 years if they registered again during the 14th year. No one is arguing that we should go back to that, but the self-righteous expectation that absolutely no effort at all should be required is unreasonable and ultimately causes cultural amnesia about many wonderful old creators who can’t be republished without fear of multi-million dollar settlements.

Be reasonable. I register my works with the copyright office. I’m not excited about the fee but it didn’t kill me.

Gary Dean Mercer Clark

All digital files have published dates when they were created or posted. It would seem to me that a standard 20 years copyright date should be extended to so called orphaned photos may not be exploited by corporations. Just because you find an image that you can’t find the owner of doesn’t give you ANY rights to it.
You didn’t produce it. It isn’t your right to steal it and use it. Thats my thought on it. Want to use a so called ” orphaned photo?” if the right law protecting photographers was in place, you’d have to wait 20 years before you can exploit the ” Unknown” photographers. Corporations have no respect for individuals rights or property. Just because you find an image on the web–doesn’t mean you have ANY right to it.


This document is dumb. How on earth do you publish a so called “myth buster” document and “reassure” photographers when the Act is an “enabling” Act that requires the “fine details to be added later” and those fine details have yet to be added. In other words they are trying to reassure us our concerns are unwarranted when they haven’t actually yet proved it ………by filling in those so called “fine details”.

I for one don’t trust the Tories as far as I can throw them, and until I see this new Act in operation for a good 10 years or so I will be of the view that it is a stitch-up in favour of big business. Furthermore, recent legislation hasn’t had a good track record; with Acts coming into force supposedly to address a particular problem but then being used for a purpose for which they were not originally intended (or put more cynically, being used for purposes other than that which we were TOLD the intended purpose of the Act was e.g. ASBOs, Anti-Terrorism Act)


OK, maybe if copyrights don’t keep getting extended to 1mill years after author’s death, you wouldn’t need this orphan works stuff.

Then if you really need an image, then either
1) you can pay someone to make it
2) it’s been out there for over 100yrs, reasonably assume it’s out of copyright

Yes I’m looking at you Mickey Mouse.


But think of Walt! Think of his kids! They would starve if they had to sit around doing nothing while being unable to collect rent from something daddy did 80 years ago!


Copyright laws that benefit large multi-national corporations at the expense of others? Say it ain’t so…


This is a horrific new law! See for yourself how easy your photos can become Orphan Works. Mine did.

Find out how it happened here:

You can see a whole host of related posts detailing the dangers of this new law in the UK and how the US is heading the same direction here:

Stop by and add your voice to the discussion here:

We need to keep this fire burning so the US government thinks twice before making the same boneheaded move as the British have done.

Daniel J. Cox

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