Format Shifting: BAPLA Weighs In on U.K. Copyright Law

Posted on 1/18/2008 by Julia Dudnik Stern | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Intellectual property owners the world over are grappling with format shifting, the consumer practice of making digital copies of works published in other mediums. Examples of format shifting include scanning an image from a book or copying a song from a CD to a computer. Both present significant challenges to artists in a global culture where technology advances at faster speeds than legal systems.

Led by the Recording Industry Association of America, the U.S. music industry has mounted an organized campaign against file-sharing what it sees as unauthorized copies of songs. The RIAA position on the issue is simple: Making copies of songs is against the law and can result in thousands of dollars in court-mandated damages.

Organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation oppose such hard-line views. However, the first legal case to reach a courtroom went in favor of RIAA last October. In RIAA v. Jammie Thomas, a federal jury ordered the Minnesota woman accused of sharing songs online to pay $220,000, or $9,250 per song, to record companies that owned the copyrights.

The RIAA has since elevated its argument to maintaining that the mere act of copying music from a legally purchased CD to a computer is illegal. The organization is currently suing an Arizona man for digitizing his CD collection.

Though format shifting of music has been the most publicized, due to the size of the recording industry, the proposed changes to U.K. intellectual property laws highlight the importance of the issue to photography.

A year ago, the U.K. government concluded that the law needs to strengthen enforcement of rights to protect the U.K.'s creative industries from piracy. The review also stressed the need for a balance between encouraging innovation and ensuring that markets remain competitive. The resulting reform plan includes a number of changes to the current statute; however, the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies says the plan is inadequate.

BAPLA chairman Paul Brown of Mary Evans Picture Library said: "The proposed changes to copyright exceptions put a far greater emphasis on music and film than on the rights of photographers and photography."

Brown said BAPLA intends to suggest ways of modifying the plan to benefit photographic creators. The format shifting exception proposed in the plan, which backs the private copying of music, is among the main areas of concern. "Photography is largely ignored here. There needs to be clarification about whether scanning a physical copy of an image from a book or print you own, to use on your computer, phone or iPod, counts as legitimate format shifting," said Brown.

He points to the potential for creating a huge number of new digital images by the general public. These images can be made easily available for sharing, which could not have happened in their original formats.

Brown agrees that format shifting needs to be addressed to facilitate social development and permit people freedom to enjoy creative works. But he feels that the current reform plan is particularly vague in defining this exception when it comes to photography.

The plan states that there needs be no remuneration to rights holders for format shifting, because "there is no significant harm to the right holder which would need to be compensated." This is in conflict with the European Copyright Directive, which states that private copying is permitted provided that fair compensation is available.

Brown thinks that the ramifications of format shifting can be enormous for images, particularly because large sectors of society believe that anything online should be free. This has been a major issue for all content creators. "It is short-sighted to believe that everyone who makes a ‘personal' copy will keep it to themselves," Brown contends.

The BAPLA position on the issue recognizes that format shifting is inevitable; it will result in exponential growth of the number of duplicate digital images. According to the organization, it is imperative that new U.K. copyright law addresses the true ramifications to rights holders and sets out a framework that incorporates fair compensation.

Still, Brown and other U.K. image-industry insiders feel the current reform plan is largely on track. Tom Morgan, head of rights at the National Portrait Gallery and copyright strategist, said the proposals show an impressive grasp of the subtleties of the issues. "I was particularly delighted to see that a serious investment is to be made in addressing the practice of file-sharing as a cultural issue, rather than simply a legal/technical one," he added.

Copyright © 2008 Julia Dudnik Stern. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz


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