Professional and amateur photographers will have to face changes to UK's copyright law, which has been modified in order to allow others to use pictures posted in sites like Instagram, Flickr or Facebook.
New changes are included in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act, a package of measures which was passed by Britain's Parliament on 26 April and moves power from citizens to US companies.
Pictures published in these websites are copyrighted, because they have an author. However, when creators cannot be contacted, images can be considered as “orphan works” and can be used without permission, the Act affirms.
Despite campaigners against the law saying this makes exploitation of images posted on the internet easier, the UK government said the act made "copyright licensing more efficient."
This is the first time these “orphan works” can be used for commercial or non-commercial purposes. However, the firm interested in a picture will have to prove to an independent body that it tried to find the copyright holder without success.
The body will allow the company to pay a licence fee and use the material once it considers the firm made a good search.
According to the Berne Convention, ownership of someone's creation is automatic, legally considered individual's property and a basic human right. Meaning that creators can denounce anyone who is using it.
But UK's law reform, already labelled as “Instagram Act”, goes against this human right and permits images' exploitation through "extended collective licensing" schemes.
Currently, there are millions of pictures published on the Internet which could be used with commercial purposes. So, what can authors do in this situation? The Act establishes that creators can register as owners of their work after receiving permission from the Secretary of State. But this is expensive, therefore the 'plan B' would be the removal of all their content online.
In addition, the 'Instagram Act' also permits sub-licensing activities. Once a company has individual's work, it can sell it to another firm.
The group Stop43, representing photographers and agencies, called the act "premature, ill thought-out and constitutionally improper.”
One of the main consequences of the renewed copyright law is a possible barrage of litigations from UK creators, who already have expressed their opinions on the Act.
Intellectual property specialist Iain Connor said, "this should not be tagged into a piece of legislation that has nothing to do with copyright. It's a nonsense."