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Where did all the images go?

The perceptive amongst you will have already seen the disappearance of most of the images on the creative-freelance.org website. The reason for this dates back to an email from Bridgeman Art Library ('The world's leading source of fine art images') received by Andrew our webmaster, on 25 May, 2006:-

  "... /Birthday/, by Dorothea Tanning (in copyright)
/The Robing of the Bride/, by Max Ernst (in copyright)
/'Your Country Needs You', /First World War Recruitment Poster, with
Portrait of Field Marshall Earl Kitchener
/'The Nativity'/, by Giotto di Bondone
/Reflection with Two Children/, by Lucian Freud (in copyright)
We act on behalf of the Collection where these images are held handling their Copyright and Reproduction Rights. According to our database, we did not license these images out to you and I am enquiring therefore where you have obtained the images from. I apologise for the inconvenience but we must follow up on all unidentified Reproductions for our Collections."

As you all know, the Freelance website is mainly devoted to galleries of members' work, a section about /blankpage, a description of our group, one or two helpful links and a (hidden from general public view) newsletter archive. The section which actually has a link to our homepage is 'Reviews' and this seems to be the bone of contention. We thought it would be helpful to place a variety of exhibition/book reviews, think-pieces, and write-ups of Freelance events onto these pages and every now and then add thumbnail images to show the visuals referred to and make a more attractive article. The key point here is that these pages are available to general browsers on the web and technically it can be argued that were publishing the images.

The resulting negotiations with Bridgeman elicited disbelief, bewilderment, anger and other emotions at our AGM at the end of that month and, despite the Chair explaining the small membership numbers and relative poverty of the not-for-profit support group that is Freelance, we were asked to pay a token fee for retrospective Copyright on the images - or rather the costs in pursuing it. This came to around £100 once VAT had been added. Freelance paid this and we agreed that we ought to remove all other 'questionable' images from our lovely review pages, just in case the same calamity was to befall us again, this not being a very good use of members' subs. Andrew, to his credit, has trawled these pages and substituted links to other sites who display relevant images and, I'm sure, pay all their fees for reproduction rights.

While Bridgeman have been quite polite and business-like in their dealings with us, agreeing that, as creative professionals, we really should have known better regarding copyright, the episode does pose one or two interesting questions particularly in regard to the web. It's also important to mention that Freelance could have faced a Reproduction Fee of £360 per image (+VAT), not to mention Copyright fees which must be cleared through DACS: a body from whose annual disbursements of money many Freelance members benefit, I would have thought. So, on the one hand we pay and, in theory and in practice, a number of us benefit. See the Postscript below for information on Bridgeman's services for contemporary artists.

The freedom, some might say anarchy, of the World Wide Web has its admirers (free exchange of images and information uncensored by the nanny state) and its critics (free exchange of images and information uncensored by the nanny state). All this has changed in recent years with the police tracing potential child-abusers when they have used their credit cards to pay for illegal images and the voluntary censorship by Google of web content in China, for example. Big Brother is certainly taking an interest and working out new ways of combatting, say, the sites selling illegal images or peddling racial/ religious hatred. This is something many of us may support, of course. The line is crossed somewhere along the way when 'big business' decides to protect its rights by use of internet trawls, so easy in the modern digital environment using super-successful sites such as Google, to winkle out miscreants from whom they can try to extract money. And it's all about money.

Clearly businesses cannot ignore the web and would argue that they are merely protecting their legal rights by employing researchers to constantly investigate the further reaches of the internet, looking for unlicensed use of data or imagery. Of course if someone nicked a member's image from the Freelance site, fiddled around with it and used it in an ad campaign somewhere in the world, we wouldn't have a Bridgeman at our shoulder to fight our corner - that is, if we ever found out about it.

While Andrew was editing the page about our visit to Farley Farm (Roland Penrose and Lee Miller's former home), he discovered 16,000 links to Lee Miller's images on the web (via www.google.co.uk/images which is a useful URL for checking the existence of any pics, including your own!) and wondered if they were all dutifully paying their repro fees... Andrew has added a link on our page to the Lee Miller website, set up to celebrate her legacy and market her photographs at www.leemiller.co.uk - their Home page 'WARNING' text is a good example of the paranoia / necessary steps that holders of copyrighted material are prepared to take to try to protect their property. Funnily enough, Andrew tried to click the 'Enter site' link and it wouldn't let him in! Another taste of the stringency surrounding copyright can be gained from statements and conditions on websites run by similar organisations dealing in visual material such as:

http://www.tate.org.uk/home/copyright.htm

where the Tate Gallery works with - guess who - Bridgeman and DACS to protect its collections. It's all too easy to bring up a page on the Tate site on a particular artist, drag and drop or copy/paste the image and use it on your own web-page. After all, who's to know? As Andrew puts it:

  "We could have some kind of Copyright statement however brief on our [own] website. It's interesting that in the Tate statement, they are expressing the 'problem' of trying to present a website about visual art and the 'difficulty' of accounting for the rights of all concerned. It would be easier to have no pics on a site but this makes a dull site; now the problem for our C-F review pages. ...

  Makes me think the IT industry could have come up with something clever by now to protect individual files, i.e. image files - some sort of copy protection, embedded into the file. When the internet was invented/designed, it was intended to be an open system, which does not sit well with commercial interests and intellectual property. The music industry is trying to sort something for digital music files, and protecting artists property.

  Microsoft could remove the option to 'Save image' when you right-click (Ctrl-click on Mac) on the image; this would stop most casual theft or 'borrowing' of images. The 'View Source' option in most browsers is very 'useful' for us web designers, so we can 'borrow' code from other websites, but then again it does not protect the original authors property. Just shows that when you add something to the internet, you know it is no longer protected and you lay yourself open to misuse or abuse."

Andrew also forwarded a BBC Newsnight newsletter (with weekly comment, in this case by Daniel Pearl, Deputy Editor) which he receives dealing with copyright issues in broadcasting and on the free digital video site YouTube (www.youtube.com):-

  "Here at the BBC we're obliged to take copyright issues extremely seriously. Producers are constantly in fear of broadcasting uncleared pictures, or discovering, as we did the other day, that five seconds of archive was to cost us over £1000 (you can imagine how that went down ...). Well, on Wednesday morning I came in to find an email from the agent of rock photographer Mick Rock (www.mickrock.com) he'd spotted an uncleared picture we'd used in Robin Denselow's obituary of Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syd_Barrett)

  Mick was extremely graceful and only charged us a small fee. However it got me thinking - how does YouTube get away with it? Newsnight's Syd Barrett film is on YouTube for anyone to find - and for anyone to judge whether Mick's photo was worth paying for (I'd argue it was). So, who put our film up there? Has Mick seen it and if so, who has paid him his small fee for the use of his picture? So far 1,125 people have viewed the film via YouTube, admittedly a small number, but none the less, surely copyright is copyright?

  On Tuesday the producer of the item, Rebecca, had great difficulty in finding clearable pictures of Syd that she could use. In fact the film came close to not being broadcast - at 11pm they were still looking for shots of the rock recluse. But had Rebecca looked on YouTube and searched for Syd she would have founds reams of footage - everything from homemade tributes to a stalker movie someone made discreetly following Syd around Cambridge.

  Now how much of this material is infringing copyright? And what would have happened if we'd just taken it and reused it on Newsnight? I guess I would have received a load of emails asking for money. So why is there one rule for us and another for YouTube? Perhaps someone could explain.

  In fact if you search for Newsnight on YouTube you'll find a whole range of our films and discussions. Currently, over 20,000 people have watched Kirsty's interview with Pete Doherty - a smaller number (71) have watched Peter Marshall's expose of British corruption in Saudi contracts - or as described on YouTube: "An exclusive and gutsy report from the beebs flagship news programme." As more and more people get their TV over the web, these questions are bound to become more important.

  Mick's agent is about to get very busy."

I just hope I haven't infringed anyone's copyright in including this
piece in my article.

--Borin Van Loon, September 2006

Postscript
Bridgeman publish a Licensing Process information sheet which can be obtained from them (0207 7274065). They also operate Bridgeman Artists' Copyright Service (BACS) whereby they act as copyright agents for contemporary artists, processing copyright for their work and selling reproduction licenses. Membership of BACS allows artists to gain access to wider markets than they would otherwise have reached and saves them valuable time on administration. There is no joining fee and they raise copyright fees for all of the artists' work regardless of whether the image is held in their archive or not, Ring them for an information pack.

In May 2006 we were contacted by a well-known picture library about the usage of some of the images on the Freelance website - we have duely removed these pics, settled up with the company, and our Chairman has since recorded the whole thing here - this is an interesting foray in copyright, rights management and the whole question of 'ownership' in the internet age.

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