Published on January 26th, 2012 | by Steven Hodson0
The copyright ruling that should be scaring the shit out of photographers
Copyright laws are a necessary evil that are more often than not misused and abused but a recent ruling in an English court should be sending shivers throughout the entire photography community and desperately needs to be challenged before it becomes ensconced in the law books.
The case that is sure to raise the hairs on the back of the necks of photographers around the world centers around an image originally taken, and then manipulated using Photoshop by Justin Fielder, the managing director for Temple Island Collection a UK souvenir maker and is referred to as the Red Bus Image.
The court case was launched when New England Teas decided to use a photo of a London bus on its packaging and refused to licence the image from Temple Island Collections, whose reason for requiring New England Teas to licence the image was because they [Temple Island Collections] were the creators of the Red Bus image and the originators of the product concept.
The fact that the image of the bus in the New English Teas’ red bus photograph was taken from a completely different vantage point and using a totally different angle apparently wasn’t a good enough argument for the court, which going against all legal precedent that no one can copyright an idea had the judge ruling in favor of Temple Island.
The case, heard at the Patents County Court in London on 12 January, could have serious implications for photographers, according to photographic copyright expert Charles Swan, a lawyer at Swan Turton, who said: ‘His honour Judge Birss QC decided that a photograph of a red London bus against a black and white background of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, with a blank sky, was similar enough to another photograph of the same subject matter to infringe copyright.’
He added: ‘The decision is perhaps surprising, given the commonplace subject matter ofthe photographs. The judge himself admitted that he found it a difficult question, but in the end he decided that a substantial part of photograph one [Temple Island’s image] had been reproduced in photograph two [New English Teas’].’
Swan warned: ‘The Temple Island case is likely to herald more claims of this kind. The judgement should be studied by anyone imitating an existing photograph or commissioning a photograph based on a similar photograph.
‘“Inspiration’ and “reference” are fine in themselves, but there is a line between copying ideas and copying the original expression of ideas which is often a difficult one to draw.’
The two images in question are at the top of this post and I leave it to you to decide if the copyright argument has any validity but regardless of your opinion if you are a photographer the copyright, at least in England – for now, has changed and not for the better.