Wow, what a day, only just early afternoon and I find myself allied to the most unlikely of people.
James Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, Europe and Asia, opened UCL’s Centre for Digital Humanities last night with a lecture that attacked the British Library for its plans to make a digital archive of over 40 million newspapers available online.
The full presentation, and an interesting one it is too, is reported by the Press Gazette headlined "James Murdoch: British Library’s newspaper archive harms the market."
Seems like Mr Murdoch and I agree on this one, although I suspect for slightly different reasons.
There is background to this. Murdoch refers in his Lecture to the announcement on the 19th May by the British Library that they are going to digitise the National Newspaper collection.
This follows up the original announcement in October last year that the project was going ahead, although as I am sure wyou will notice as I did that this was supposed to be being funded by a not insubstantial £33 million committment from the Government, and no mention was made of monet making ventures.
Whilst I understand why the British Library want to move the National Collection, and of course why they want to digitise it, and in addition many would agree that the digitisation of such an important archive is to commended, I would question the way that it is being done.
Bringing in Industry so that this is a cost free exercise for the BL, well I understand the motive too, but is it actually in line with the altruistic nature of the project?
I would go further; is it legal? For myself, as one individual photographer who has been supplying UK newspapers since the mid-seventies, I am aware that I have many (scores of) thousands of images represented in these newspapers, that the British Library is prepared to give to a third party commercial concern, (are DC Thompson doing this out of concern for the nation, or because they see a money making opportunity here?), it is my images and those of many other photographers like myself, and the words of many writers that are going to be ‘sold’ by this new enterprise to pay for the scheme.
James Murdoch is correct to say that newspapers lodge their works with the British Library, and that at no point in the past has it been made clear that these works would then go on to produce revenue for the British Library, nor were they (the newspaper publishers) asked. The British Library is not a charity shop, and if it is to become one then works have to be clearly donated, not appropriated via the back door.
What James omitted to say, is that a very large proportion of the works that are published in British Newspapers, do not belong to even the publishers, and they (the publishers), have themselves (quite rightly) to seek the right to re-use published material after first use, owned by freelance photographers and journalists. At no time have individual creators like myself been asked whether we wish to donate our material to the British library for it to launch the first (of many?) money making projects, on the back of our created works.
What will make this even more difficult, is that even if each and every creator is to be asked, (not just the publishers), if permission is given, and I am sure that many will grant permission; but even if every creator is to be asked, because at their own insistence the 1988 copyright act excused newspapers publishers from being obliged to credit authors and photographers, there are hundreds of thousands of images for which it will be less easy for permission to be given, even though many of those authors are around today and still producing created works.
One can see now why the British Library and others were so keen to get the commercialisation of orphan works on the agenda of the Digital Britain Bill last month, and why creators such as photogrpahers are so thankful that Clause 43 which would have legalised this move by the British Library was struck out of the bill, (thanks in large to the Conservative and Liberal Members of Patrlaiment who opposed the clause on our behalf).
But hold on. If Clause 43 was lost from the Bill, whay are the British Library carrying on regardless. Have they been lagging behind on current events?
Or has somebody forgotten to tell us somthing.
And no British Library, you do not have blanket permission from me for you to sell or lend out my works for pay, without my specific permission. And before I grant that permission I want to know chapter and verse please.
Member of: The National Union of Journalists