Bailiffs ahoy! - agencies collect for abuse

COLLECTING payment from people who use photos (or other work) without permission is a problem for UK journalists. Photo agencies Getty and Corbis seem to have decided that the way forward for them is to issue invoices for the (large) amount they first thought of, then send in debt collectors.

This doesn't get them good publicity. In fact it got Getty a full-page writeup in the Guardian for demanding £6000 from a church whose volunteer had used "a couple of images sourced from Getty" on its website without payment or permission.

The church didn't pay. If the case had gone to court, it would have stood a good chance of getting away with paying only what the pictures would have cost if it had asked properly to start with. This is a flaw in copyright law on which the NUJ is campaigning in Westminster and Brussels.

But freelance Guardian writer Wendy Grossman says "Letters demanding large sums are scary, and it's not surprising if many recipients settle." Getty was very reluctant to talk to her: and neither it nor Corbis would answer her questions concerning how much of the money they recovered was going to photographers. (The agencies distribute images in which photographers retain rights, as well as grabbing all-rights contracts.) The Freelance is asking them again.

Wendy told the Freelance that "abusive enforcement tactics are in fact counter-productive - because they cause people to lose respect for the law. We need copyright law that people do respect, and that means proportionate enforcement."

That's the opposite of the effect of the actions of German outfit DigiProtect. According to BBC  Radio One's Newsbeat, it has sent letters to "thousands of internet users" claiming that they have downloaded pornographic films from a "peer-to-peer" file- sharing network, which then makes their copies available for other users to download. If they had done this, they'd certainly have broken copyright law. DigiProtect is demanding £525 to settle out of court. Sixty-year-old "Mary" from Bedfordshire told the BBC: "it was such a shock. I didn't even know what a P2P network was before this," she said. "I didn't sleep for a week."

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