Instagram Act: Will your photos be free for the taking?

01 May 2013
By Corinne

The ‘Instagram Act’ could see private photos from sites like Instagram being taken and used for commercial purposes.

Following the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act receiving Royal Assent to become a law last week, UK photography rights have become the focus of worldwide attention. The change to the law means that ‘orphan works’, or photos where the owner’s information is missing, can be sublicensed and used without the owner’s permission, as long as a ‘diligent search’ has taken place.

Angry photographers

The act, which has been dubbed the ‘Instagram Act’ because of its implications for users of photosharing sites such as Instagram, has led TechRadar to ask: “Did the UK just abolish copyright?“, while the BBC focused on photographers’ anger at the law change.

Who will the Instagram Act affect?

While the details of the legislation are still under review, the ramifications of the act in its current form are considered to be particularly pertinent for those of us who share our images online, since the majority of those photos do not have markings or identifying metadata attached to them.

So, if you’re one of the millions of Brits who regularly upload and share your pics online, this act could affect you. If you take a picture, for instance of a sunset or cute animal, it may be possible for a media agency to use that picture online and in print as advertising material, as well as selling it on to other companies, without reimbursing you or crediting you for the privilege.

What can you do?

Under the new act, even if you are careful enough to include identifying information when you upload your photo, you may still find your photos being used for commercial purposes. This is because of the widespread practice online of saving and reposting other people’s pictures without including the author’s information, a practice which may render the picture an ‘orphan work’.

Curt Hopkins, writing for Mashable, has suggested that the one way to protect the copyright on your photos would be to register every one, the difficulty being the time it would take to do this, combined with the problem that there is only one registry which has been fast enough to accommodate the changes to the law.

Profound consequences online

As well as making a wealth of online images free for use by commercial enterprises, the Instagram Act could potentially have more profound consequences for the future of information sharing. Some commentators are speculating that the change to the law will have a ‘chilling effect’ on the more general free exchange of content online.

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