Copyright stripped away?

FREELANCES who email to clients photos as image files and writers who send copy as document attachments should be aware that they risk their work getting separated from the labels they've added to identify it as their copyrighted work.

In image editing software such as Photoshop, clicking on "File" tab at the left of the drop-down menus takes you to "File info". This includes boxes for captions, copyright and contact details, so by filling in these fields you can identify the image as your copyright.

Word processing programmes like Word also have a facility called "properties", again in the "File" drop down menu, which can include a copyright message. In the past, some systems would strip this information away from pictures when it saved them, which meant that a freelance's photos became "orphaned works" whose creator could not be traced.

Photographers have learnt to add their copyright "identifier" to these fields or panels in image files. The newer data handling and directory archiving systems used by newspapers picture desks, such as MediaGrid, keep these identifiers attached to image files when they save them, so that picture desks know they should get permission.

But it's hard to find out whether all the various copy-handling systems used by newspapers do keep copyright identifiers attached to freelances' work, especially where local newspapers have agreements to pass on images and copy to press agencies that may be using a different, and possibly less sophisticated, copy handling system.

We've heard that software packages like Quickwire, used by newspapers and press agencies for handling written copy, are often very stripped down, and save copy in a very basic "txt" format which loses any copyright identifiers the author may have added. Agencies may then lift stories and material from regional papers without appreciating that the material belongs to freelances.

The NUJ's Freelance Industrial Council is preparing to raise with its counterparts in the union's newspapers and agencies sector the issue of copyright identifiers from freelances' work being stripped out (or ignored) in this way.

If you have friendly contacts in picture desks or do shifts there yourself, please let the Freelance know how it works at different media outlets - are copyright details lost forever when images or copy is passed around the data handling system, or are they retained? How conscientious are they in making efforts to identify the creator of the copy they're handling, and in ensuring this data is retained with the copy when it's passed on?

See for more on identifying your work as yours, and new developments in this field. We hope to look at the subject in an LFB meeting in the near future.

European Union law (in the so-called "Infosoc Directive") says that removing copyright information must be illegal in all member states. But that went into UK law as a provision that you have the same rights against someone who removes your info as you do against someone who makes an illegal copy. Which would be to sue them for... er, how much?

The BAPLA info panel
Metadata in action - a photo of the BAPLA info panel shown on a computer at last year's NUJ photographers' conference

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