Friday 3 May 2013

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act: what does it mean?

Last night the text of the new Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act was finally published. The copyright provisions in this Act have been hotly disputed on all sides, but most emphatically by the artistic community who claim that legislation on orphan works and extended collective licensing will threaten their livelihoods (see BBC article 'Photographers' anger at law change over orphan works'). This week has seen a lot of hysteria around the provisions of the Act, and a petition has even been set up to get these provisions repealed, but I wanted to wait until the full text was out before posting my thoughts. So what do the copyright provisions in the Act mean?

Orphan Works

Discussions on orphan works have been happening for a while. Last year, the EU brought out a Directive on Orphan Works which went into some detail about diligent searches to discover authors/creators, appropriate record-keeping and (where possible) rights registries, and is particularly keen for searches to be able to be conducted across borders. However, the Directive neatly dodges the issue of artistic works as it does not include them in its scope. The Directive must be implemented into UK law within 2 years, but is without prejudice to any national laws drafted in the meantime in relation to orphan works (so it wouldn't restrict the provisions of the ERR Act).

So what does the ERR Act do? Well, it extends section 116 of the CDPA (which is to do with licensing schemes and licensing bodies) and allows for the Secretary of State (by way of regulations) to permit a person or persons to authorise the grant of licences for the use of orphan works. I have to say, I find it curious that the text of this new section (116A) deviates quite significantly from the text of section 116, and appears quite confusing - why not continue with 'licensing body' rather than 'person', for example? The definitions are already there, but not so for the new section, so I wonder who will have responsibility in authorising these licences. These regulations will set out the scope of the diligent search that must be undertaken before a work can be declared orphan, and a licence subsequently granted will not be an exclusive licence. The regulations may also specify 'other matters to take into account' (one would assume that the potential for the orphan work to have been stripped of its metadata would be part of this), provide for royalties to be paid should the author/creator come forward, and provide for circumstances where a licence should be withdrawn.

Extended Collective Licensing

The ERR Act adds another new section to the CDPA in the form of 116B which will in similar fashion to 116A allow collecting rights societies such as the Copyright Licensing Agency to apply to the Secretary of State to be able grant licences to organisations to use works where the copyright is not owned by the collecting rights society or its authors/publishers. Quite how this works in practice is unclear; does it apply to works of foreign origin, for example? If it does there could potentially be jurisdictional issues. The licence granted could cover any or all of the rights in copyright and could actually in practice be very difficult to administer, given that rightsholders can specifically request not to be included in any grant of extended licence (and one assumes there would be many opting out of this particular one). It is also not clear how this section works with orphan works; could they fall under an extended collective licence, for example? Perhaps the regulations will make that more clear.

How do these regulations come about?

The ERR Act states that regulations will come about via statutory instrument that must be laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament. So there will be more parliamentary fun to be had over the next 12 months or so when it is assumed these regulations will be drafted.

Some thoughts... 

The orphan works issue has come about because of the large quantities of works with no defined author held by archives, museums and galleries. In the digital age, with the seamless technology available, these heritage institutions want to be able to make these works available to the public in ways which would ensure their preservation but also put them on display for the world to see. The cost of trying to trace the rightsholders for these works is disproportionate and most smaller archives and museums are forced to abandon projects because the risk of infringement is too great. Ideally, there should be a solution which enables heritage material to be put into the public space because the public funds its preservation. However, the ERR Act will require museums and archives to pay a licensing fee up front to put orphan works from their collections online, and given that there may be a lot of orphan works which will probably remain unclaimed, there is a question about where the money goes, who holds it and who profits from it. At present, it doesn't look like the people directly involved (i.e. the creators who create the work or the institutions who hold and preserve it) will receive much if anything at all.

There should also be a mechanism in the regulations to prevent large corporate organisations evading the cost of photographs from stock image galleries by applying for an orphan works licence. This would have serious consequences for the photographic community and is not (in my opinion) what the purpose of orphan works legislation was supposed to be about.

There's actually a very good balanced article over at the Economist's blog which takes into account the photographers' views and lawyers' views and echoes some of my thoughts on the issues.


My suggestions to authors and creators are: 

1. Be vigilant. The ERR Act doesn't abolish copyright, nor does the UK Government want all your works for free, but you need to be aware of these new licensing schemes to ensure that you get what you want. At the end of the day, your work is yours, and unless you assign copyright, you have the right to exploit it in any way you desire. 

2. Protect your work. Do everything you can to ensure that you are known as the author or creator of the work (I appreciate this is more difficult for visual artists, but there is some excellent advice from photographers in this article on  

3. Watch for the creation of the regulations. This will scope out the definition of diligent search, and you will still have a chance to have your say as they must pass through Parliament.

4. Follow the money. The whole of the UK is watching to see exactly where the funds from the use of orphan works will be going, and if you are an author or creator you may be able to find ways of tapping into those funds. It may not be easy, but there are enough author and creator organisations to carry some weight in this area. 

Finally, there is already an up-and-coming excellent schemes which is looking at the issue of licensing of copyright works as a whole. The UK Government has given £150,000 to the Copyright Hub (a creation which has arisen following Richard Hooper's investigative work into copyright licensing) which aims to be a portal to manage rights and find rightsholders. I believe that this will feature in the regulations for a diligent search. 


  1. Sorry if this is a stupid question, but under this legislation would it be possible for me to set up a company that strips metadata from images I've found on the internet, then sells licenses to use those images as they are "orphan works"? Assuming 'diligent search' turns out to be badly defined, that is.

    Not that I want to do this, it's just from the various articles about this it seems like it would be possible for someone to do it

    1. You could, but metadata stripping is actually illegal (it's right there in the law) so a company set up to do this specifically would be breaking the law and could be sued by everyone.

  2. Sorry, yes - what I meant was if the company was stripping metadata secretively, then claiming the images were orphan works (and providing evidence of a cursory 'diligent' search).

    So I would be able to claim copyright licensing money for works that I had no business in creating, simply by virtue that they're orphan works? That seems incredibly unjust..

  3. Nicely written, but you are naive if you think that the sole (or major) motivator for licensing orphan works is the cultural sector - Google et al have been lobbying hard for the past few years to get this to work in their favour and they have very deep pockets. Sadly, Cameron and the rest have been swayed by their arguments in the interests of 'innovation', one of those catch-words that means nothing, at the expense of creators' rights. We, as creators, will have to opt out of any Extended Collective Licensing schemes that come along and do more work to ensure that what we make is protected as far as possible. Yet again, the onus will be on the small guy to do the leg-work.

    Has it never occurred to anyone that the right thing to do might be to not use a work at all if the creator/author cannot be traced?