UK Gov Passes Instagram Act: All your pics belong to everyone now!

Posted May. 2nd, 2013 by Daniel J. Cox

Good grief! Photographers just took another hit in favor of corporations who may want to hijack your images for their own personal gain. The Register, a leading global online tech publication, just released an article detailing a new law passed in the UK . In short, the law allows anybody, any corporation, any entity wanting to use ANY photo, for ANY reason, to use that photo without first getting permission from the photographer.

Here's the guy squeezing your right hand as he extracts cash from your pocket with his left hand. He's the multibillion dollar business guy Mark Zuckerberg the one who owns Instagram. .

Click on this image to read more about my work to help stop the thievery of our photographs.

This issue relates to what I’ve been blogging about in the past concerning online publishers stripping all Contact Information (known as Metadata) from our photos when we upload them to the web. Major offenders include Facebook, Thompson/Reuters, Instagram and almost all other websites. The norm across the Internet, it seems, is most websites strip ALL contact information/metadata out of the photo that you should be adding. When this information is removed, the photo now becomes known as an “orphaned work” meaning nobody has any idea who owns it. Orphaned works, under this new UK law, are now up for grabs. The law even goes so far as to allow the THIEF to now resell that image. In other words, a stock photo agency could literally comb the Internet for orphaned works, grab those images and start selling them with no payment to the photographer. Admittedly, any reputable stock agency would not do that for many reasons, but there are plenty of other corporations, that use lots of images and are currently paying money to photographers to use their work that would. With this new law they can now skip the payment for photo usage. Nice…………….. Below are a couple of paragraphs of text copied directly from the Register’s article. This bullshit is a flipping nightmare and it has to stop. Please share this article with anyone you know. Not just professional photographers. Your party pictures are as much at risk as my entire thirty-year library of professional work.

The following text was taken as short examples directly from Andrew Orlowski‘s article for the The Register.

The Act contains changes to UK copyright law which permit the commercial exploitation of images where information identifying the owner is missing, so-called “orphan works”, by placing the work into what’s known as “extended collective licensing” schemes. Since most digital images on the internet today are orphans – the metadata is missing or has been stripped by a large organisation – millions of photographs and illustrations are swept into such schemes.

Previously, and in most of the world today, ownership of your creation is automatic, and legally considered to be an individual’s property. That’s enshrined in the Berne Convention and other international treaties, where it’s considered to be a basic human right. What this means in practice is that you can go after somebody who exploits it without your permission – even if pursuing them is cumbersome and expensive.

The UK coalition government’s new law reverses this human right. When last year Instagram attempted to do something similar, it met a furious backlash. But the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act has sailed through without most amateurs or semi-professionals even realising the consequences.



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There are 23 comments on this post…
  1. pogoOn May. 9th, 2013

    there is some inaccuracy here… FB does not strip metadata. Maybe 2years ago their system did, but it is problem of programming/ uploader and FB was forced to make turnabout regarding their terms. Flickr has licensing terms and allows you to make your images “all rights” or basic templates for nonexclusive rihgts or public source… However Flickr is under Yahoo and must conform with US law, so filing copyright infraction complaint will be acknowledged.

    Google is a main perpetrator vs photographer’s rights although it always noisily states otherwise, but it is very hard to file a complaint with Google regarding infractions or violations and Google always does the sidestep claiming that it is just backbone service and not liable for anything that goes on…and yet when G+ was new, if photographer did not have metadata in the image, when the image was “liked” or “shared” by 3d party, the automatic assignment of that image was to the person sharing the image, not the originator, so the image became orphaned. It might still be true, but I haven’t checked. Google is one-for-all and all-for-one when it comes to self-interest.

    the problem with instagram might be that it is used with small mobile devices and pocket cameras where people automatically upload the image without understanding that they should insert copyright information, but there are portals and sites that routinely strip. Is complicated problem

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jul. 2nd, 2013

      Pogo, I missed this post unfortunately. Your comment, “FB does not strip metadata is completely false. It’s a very easy process to prove this and I’ve done it time and again. Not sure about some of your others comments regarding Google+ but I do know that when I upload images to Google+ then copy them back over to my desktop, all metadata/contact info is retained. Not so for Facebook. Your one comment, “Is complicated problem” I agree with completely. Tis is something all photographers just need to keep pushing for.

  2. Thorstent KlintOn May. 8th, 2013


    Hope you do it mind sharing, this is realy a disgreca !

    All the best

  3. BenOn May. 8th, 2013

    i have one bit of advise! details which they cant strip from the photo are WATERMARKS!

    i does however mean that all photos used anywhere (even in press articles) will need large watermarks! but thats what they are after isnt it??

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 8th, 2013

      Ben, Watermarks are a good idea. However, unless you place them in the middle of the image, the watermark can be easily cropped from the photograph. I place watermarks on all my images that are intended for the web. To make sure the image isn’t completely destroyed by the watermark, I typically place it in the lower right or left corner. Placing it in this position puts would be thieves on notice. But it does nothing to stop them from bringing the image in to a simple photo editing program and removing the watermark by cropping it out. There are a few photos that cropping the very edges would damage my vision as an artist and destroy the visual integrity of the image. But if you plan to steal the image anyway, most thieves would consider a cropped version of the original photo, “good enough”. This is why watermarks are not final answer. They are an important addition to the final answer but not the final answer itself.

      The best answer is to preserve the IPTC Metadata/Contact Information that should be embedded in all images on the web. This is so important that the Clinton Administration helped pass a law that makes it a criminal act to remove that Contact Information. It’s called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 and on the second page of a US Copyright Summary it states, ”

      Download a PDF of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, US Copyright Office Summary

      Title I implements the WIPO treaties. First, it makes certain technical amendments to U.S. law, in order to provide appropriate references and links to the treaties. Second, it creates two new prohibitions in Title 17 of the U.S. Code—one on circumvention of technological measures used by copyright owners to protect their works and one on tampering with copyright management information—and adds civil remedies and criminal penalties for violating the prohibitions. In addition, Title I requires the U.S. Copyright Office to perform two joint studies with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Department of Commerce (NTIA).

      The key words in the text above are, Prohibitions and circumvention of technological measures used by copyright owners to protect their works and one on tampering with copyright management information—and adds civil remedies and criminal penalties for violating the prohibitions.

      Based on my understanding of this legal document, the process of removing Metadata/Contact Information from any and all photographs is ILLEGAL! Yet Facebook does it every time you upload an image to their page. Thomson-Reuters, one of the largest news agencies in the world breaks the above law as well. See for yourself in this post.

      The point here is we need to figure out how embed Metadata/Contact Information in to images that can not be removed. And until then we need to put pressure on the organizations that break this law to stop their practice of removing the Metadata/Contact Information.

  4. Sean J ConnollyOn May. 7th, 2013

    I think this is out of order, and it proves the whole point of why I set up CT Magazine to give credit where credit is due.

    What I am thinking is featuring this is our next issue, as we get over 150000 readers every six weeks, think they will be kean to know more.

    if anyone has any more info on this please get in touch and lets stop this before it starts.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 7th, 2013

      Sean, thanks for your input. You are right, most people have no idea what goes into getting quality images. The cost, the time, the reactivity and sometimes the danger. Glad to help you educate the masses. I’m hopeful we can gain their support to turn things around.

  5. Kathy Adams ClarkOn May. 7th, 2013

    Dan, last week I checked on Orphan Works legislation in the US Congress. It’s still in committee. We need to get that act passed because it has a clause that makes removing copyright information a crime. This was in the legislation at one time, at least.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 7th, 2013

      Kathy, thanks for the additional information. Do you have a web site that details that Bill? Anything you can share would be helpful. Thanks for adding your voice.

  6. James R. Kyle (U.S.A.)On May. 7th, 2013

    This is really disturbing… I am now counting the days when the state of California here in the U.S. will “jump-on” this…. 🙁

  7. CarolOn May. 5th, 2013

    My understanding is that if it’s copyrighted then the “orphan” situation doesn’t apply. Copyright and watermarks are harder to remove, and they take time. In the USA you can mass register your work, for not a lot of $’s. What a pain but if we truly want to protect them I’m afraid this is the direction we need to go in. Also you can set up a Google Image alert so if it’s stolen you get an email alert that somebody is using it – and can stop it quickly.

    I don’t know what the UK is thinking, but I think this is an example of Social Media gone MAD and Facebook has a huge influence here.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 5th, 2013

      Carol, technically all photos are copyrighted the moment you take one. What I believe you are thinking of us is Registering your copyright with the US Copyright Office. And yes that is a good idea. I currently register every image I shoot. It’s not expensive, I believe it’s $40.00US, I haven’t paid attention for quite some time, my assistant handles this job, for an unlimited number of images. Registering your images does give you many more legal options. However, it could be argued that once you agree to upload an image to Facebook, thereby accepting their Terms of Service, you now may have given up all your legal rights afforded by the US Copyright Laws. I will say, that this situation has never been tested and your comment about being protected is one of the reasons I’ve felt semi-comfortabel uploading to Facebook, However, I’ve not felt comfortable enough to upload my truly prized images.

      For more info follow this link to The Photographers Guide to Copyright, courtesy of ASMP & PhotoSheleter

  8. Dr. Ellen K. RudolphOn May. 5th, 2013

    Daniel, et al – can you talk more about metadata stripping practices? And give us a good link or two to this effect? As well as who some of the major culprits are. That may be THE concrete issue around which we can collectively educate others. Good discussion, thanks! PS., Daniel, hello from Ellen.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 5th, 2013

      Ellen, good to hear from you. Right now the absolute KING of offenders for stripping Contact Information/Metadata is Facebook. One could argue that posting to Facebook is not mandatory. However, whether you do post or not is irrelevant. It’s the blatant disregard of ownership, pervasive throughout the web that’s at issue. Another offender is the world renown global news organization Thomson-Reuters. I had four of my photos published by Thomson-Reuters last summer, where they stripped every shred of Contact Information/Metadata from each photo; that was the igniter of this whole issue for me. You can see the original post that jumped started this whole discussion. To see all posts pertaining to this subject, follow this link. So as you can see, offenders go from the most general everyday, household, variety to one of the worlds most respected news agencies and everything in-between.

      What I find interesting is that many online organizations don’t even realize they’re doing it. When I spoke to the photo editor at Thomson-Reuters, she was completely unaware of what I was even talking about when I informed her they had stripped all my contact info from my images. She actually thought I was complaining about not getting a credit line, which they did give me. But the credit line was separate from the image AND the image was easily copied from their web site and moved to my desktop, thereby disconnecting any and all information regarding who owned that picture.

      Keep in mind, it’s not easy to get a news organization as big as Thomson-Reuters to even look at your photos let alone use any. I was fortunate to have four images published. I equate the use of my images as proof positive those photos had substantial value. Even so, with this new law the UK has passed, those valuable photos now become worthless once their Contact Info/Metadata is removed. Based on the new UK law, anybody can use those images and the offender can legally claim, “oh sorry, I didn’t know whose they were”.

      Even though this is a new law within the UK, our images are seen throughout the world via the internet. Any US photographer could be effected by this. That’s why it is so important to stop this in its tracks, so other countries, US included, don’t get the idea this is something people will buckle under to and accept.

      Thanks for adding your voice.

  9. Amun-ReOn May. 4th, 2013

    As long as people continue supporting bribe-ocracies, this and many other nasty things will manifest. Most people (photographers too) pride themselves on saying they don’t get into politics. Fine. The biggest thieves in the world LOVE the masses who swear they “don’t get into politics.” The apathetic ones are the thieves biggest supporters. The music to the ears of a pickpocket or con-artist is to hear someone saying, “I don’t get into watching my wallet.” The biggest thieves on the planet are busy 24/7 bribing politicians. The biggest pay-day comes from stealing permits from on high. So these kinds of things are the natural course of things when we “don’t get into politics.”

  10. Valerie HenschelOn May. 4th, 2013

    In the US stripping copyright data is supposed to be illegal under the revised copyright laws. So why has no one sued those major companies who “orphan” images by stripping the copyright data?
    As to seeing pics of your kids used commercially (not editorial uses), it most likely won’t happen. Most publishers will not risk using unreleased images of minors. So even if they are legally orphaned and untraceable, and the proper procedures were followed, the user would still risk legal complications if the person or relatives or photographer is still living.

  11. Neil LewisOn May. 4th, 2013

    It would seem that the sole way this could be made to work is if the (presently existing but unenforced) UK laws concerning the stripping of metadata were rigorously enforced.

    In essence, the BBC, Facebook, Associated Newspapers, etc. should all be prosecuted for their use of automated, industrial scale systems for metadata stripping. It’s already a criminal act on this scale, hence needs no action by individuals other than for it to be reported.

    My suggestion to demonstrate the unfairness and ill-conceived nature of the new Act is for all photographic bodies, professional or otherwise, to report all such thefts to the police in a very public way until serious court action is taken against those responsible or the Act is either repealed or suitably amended.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 4th, 2013

      Great input Neil, thanks for adding your voice.

  12. Doc HalideOn May. 3rd, 2013

    Let’s call a spade a spade – this is outright theft, sanctioned by the UK. If you post something on one of these theft sites be sure you put your name and copyright physically in the image. If you see you photos in unauthorized, uncompensated use SUE, SUE SUE THE BASTARDS!!! At the very least have a lawyer send a cease and desist letter. Bombard them with copies of the letter and with emails threatening horrific legal action and multiple lawsuits as well as a class action suit. Scare and harass them, and organize a campaign with others to do the same. Maybe somebody will get scared enough to back off.

  13. Jim McCannOn May. 2nd, 2013

    Thank for bringing this to light MR. Cox. These sort of things are not only killing what’s left of our business, but it also threatens everyone who posts photos anywhere. Imagine a farmer’s wife in Kansas seeing her family photos of kids at a summer picnic in an ad somewhere, or a young person’s goofy antics in a national magazine…the list is endless. This is stealing. In the UK it’s Government sponsored stealing.

    Thanks for letting me know.

    Jim McCann
    Fairbanks, Alaska

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 2nd, 2013

      Thanks for adding your voice Jim. Please help spread the word. Your example of the innocent family having their family photos hijacked is all to real. If the general public understood this as we professionals do, I’m convinced there would be a ground swell of support to end this type of thievery. That’s why we need to get this out to as many people as possible even if they aren’t necessarily professionals or serious amateurs. Stay tuned.

  14. Dave GlatzOn May. 2nd, 2013

    Incredible. They delete ALL identifying info and then capitalize on it by saying they don’t know who owns it? Am I missing something? Not like they are paying big bucks for images anyway. If that is all correct. I agree it’s BS Dan. Thanks for the post.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 2nd, 2013

      Dave, thanks for your input. Hard to believe but then nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to the business of photography. Please spread this info as best you can. Discuss it with other photogs when you are taking your photo workshops. Single photographers will never have the power to make the changes needed to protect our rights. We need masses of voices. Have you ever thought about getting involved with Copyright Law as an attorney? We could use a good attorney who has their heart in the game as well. This fall ASMP will be holding a round table discussion at Photo Plus Expo in New York and I’m hoping to get as many people involved as possible. You should think about coming to the show. It’s a fun time.

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