back to article Google orders spontaneous support for Parliamentary motion

Google's influence on the UK copyright agenda is a little clearer today, thanks to an email seen by The Register. The email is a rallying cry to 'independent' copyright activists. In the email, Google's head of UK policy, Theo Bertram, urges the recipients to rally supporters behind a Parliamentary Early Day Motion in favour …


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  1. Antony Riley

    A rights-holder's representative who spoke to us on condition of anonymity told us:

    It's an example of astroturf: of a corporation using the collective action of not-for-profit groups to further its own interests.

    Pot calling the kettle black?

    Surely rights holders groups have been doing this for years?

    The idea that in political debate everybody involved is entirely trasnsparent is laughable at best.

    1. Rampant Spaniel

      Possibly, probably in some cases. Usually where the rights holder is a large company rather than an individual.

      As a photographer the google review is bad news. Stopping your work being copied is impossible, be it somebody with a cell phone in a gallery or a screen scrape from your portfolio online. Once that copy is out there (and tbh most of us don't care about a casual copy like that) it's hard to track back to me. Under google rules, a publisher can find my picture, make a token effort to as me for permission, then use it at will with only the risk of having to pay 1-200 in fines, if I ever find out. Oh and I can't stop them even when I do find out. Apparently the only way around this is to submit ALL my work for licencing.

      Frankly this sucks. For clients who do not want their wedding / birthday / barmitzvah shots used outside my portfolio, or for me when my work is used by somebody who isn't going to pay a fair amount or worse, an organisation I do not wish to b associated with.

      Think how you'd feel if your kids birthday or graduation shots that you wanted kept private ended up on the news or a magazine or in a book? Oh and you can't stop it, you don't get paid and you can't sue me either. Sucks right.

      The bottom line is if you don't have permission you cannot use it. I have yet to hear of a single example of where these companies have not been able to publish a book or news story because they haven't been able to get an image. Everything, ever, since cave paintings is available via the liks of getty and similar. There are shots of everything current available via many agencies. They simply don't want to pay a fair price (and the pricing is pretty low, hundreds not thousands, per shot mostly for editorial stuff, depending on how unique and special the shot is), they just want to use google image search and get it for free.

      1. Intractable Potsherd
        Thumb Down

        @ Rampant Spaniel

        "... and the pricing is pretty low, hundreds not thousands, per shot". And here we have the problem. No photograph is worth hundreds, let alone thousands (assuming we are talking pounds/euros/dollars etc) here, unless it has been specifically commissioned at that price (i.e. the commissioner is willing to pay for a specific photograph(s) to be taken because it means something special to her/him/the company).

        I recently needed a photograph to illustrate something not-for-profit. I used Google to find photos that met my search criteria, and, of course, some were pay-to-use. I was absolutely astounded at the amount demanded, especially by independents (photo-libraries were merely eye-watering). I ended up using one that was as good as some of the extortionate ones, but which an open access copyright on it.

        The internet has made the professional artist redundant - it is time to face up to it.

        1. Rampant Spaniel

          Re: @ Rampant Spaniel

          No photograph is worth a hundreds of pounds? That depends entirely on how easy it is to recreate and how many people have done so. If you don't place that value on that work then that is fine, other people do.Many photographers would have worked with you for free given it was a not for profit project.

          For what you mention yes you can get a picture for free from some sources and for very little from others, google the terms microstock and macrostock. The idea being you sell a lot at a low price rather than a few at a higher price. At the cheaper end of the market you do have to make some concessions, sometime it is in the quality (for instance, was the shot you purchased sharpened? was it sharpened correctly for the desired output medium?) and sometimes it is in the licencing terms (some free and cheap stock photography is limited in what you can use it for).

          The internet hasn't made professional artists redundant. It has made the market evolve, it has opened up new business possibilities and sure there is a lot of free work out there which does have an impact but it isn't much. The prices for stock and editorial usage are set as they are because they have evolved to that, depending on your usage they can be pretty cheap, even from the big boys. There is plenty of competition that keeps prices keen, although you may baulk at a few hundred to a few thousand for a picture for a book cover, others do not. Notably in the case of books, our clients are other 'artists' who appreciate the value in the work.

          So you want a picture, how much is it worth. If you had to have a trained professional with 50k worth of equipment and 20 years experience spend a day taking it, is it worth nothing? If it was worth nothing all you would have is non specific amateur work.

          How strict your criteria are is likely to be the defining factor for you. If you simply wanted a picture of say a tropical beach, any tropical beach, you could probably find one for free. Now if you are a putting together an advertising campaign and you have a very specific vision of how you want the shot to look you are going to be spending in the thousands to commission a picture. Why, because you have to take a talented, insured, trained professional, have them scout a location, have them setup a shot including any props and models. lighting, scrims etc, they then have to take the shot(s), usually with the client hovering over their shoulder changing their mind every ten seconds. Then you have to go through post production and deal again with the client changing their mind (oh can you add an island in there, oh I didn't see that high ass cruise liner, can you remove it, can you add more sand please, oh I don't like where that tree move it to the left and move its shadow) and then yes it is worth a few thousand per billable hour (and a couple of days planning and post production that usally isn't billed). It all depends on your relationship with the client and how much you work.

          As you say specifically commissioned work attracts a higher charge, you are likely just not used to those rates, stock and editorial rates aren't all that high compared to comissioned work. The difference between macro and micro stock photography (which is significantly cheaper than comissioned work) is in the business model and as mentioned often the quality of the terms of use.

          I'm not trying to be mean, just explaining the situation may be different to how you saw it given your limited exposure to the field. Yes the internet has been a boon to some purchasers of content, especially photography, but for those of us willing to adapt, it is also awesome.

        2. Rampant Spaniel

          Re: @ Rampant Spaniel

          Just an example, but on average over say 20 years, a stock shot (which is often more expensive to shoot then a comissioned shot as it is more likely to be outside your local area) will usually sell for about 25% of the cost it would have been if it had been comissioned (although this depends on use \ licence), so obviously it has to sell 4 times to make the same money. On average, across a lot of shots, they do not sell 4 times, 2-3 maybe.

          Purporting to judge an entire industry based on looking to purchase a single image is a little optmisitic :) But thank you for your concern :) !

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Is it worth suggesting that you don't put pictures online which are not authorised for online use?

        Or if you do, could you could plaster "Not Authorised for use outside - For permission, call 0118 999 881 999 119 7253" across the middle of the picture?

        I'm not suggesting that google's idea is a good one, but there might be some actions you can take to protect yourself.

        1. Rampant Spaniel

          Thank you for the suggestions! We do add watermarks to images but there is a balance between making them unobtrusive but effective. The worst threat to distribution is facebook. Most customers want images on a dvd as part of the deal. That's fine, I prefer to work that way. However, they then upload to fb, share with friends and the work is all over the interwebs 6 hours later. Again, this is fine, if anything its free advertising. The problem is the work is then orphaned. Any metadata is stripped at some point and I wouldn't watermark a delivered product. Gallery shots are another big problem. If somebody takes a camera phone shot of an image I display, I don't mind much, again free advertising and its not like I lost a sale directly. If they like they buy. My printer makes more profit per print than I do, but he's hella good at his job!

          Google wants to be able to monitise googlr image search, they want to be able to sell any image on the internet and sometimes maybe pay a cut to the photographer, the key is they want to sell first and maybe ask later. That's simply not how it works. Clients understand the need for a portfolio, on all but a couple of occasions they are happy to have their work used in that manner (those that said no had very valid security concerns). Prospective cllients take pictures of portfolio album pages to compare photogs, to me that's reasonable. The problem is again that's technically orphaned. When clients trust me with an model release so I can use their images, I have to stand up for them and protect their privacy.

          This isn't about what an individual photo is worth or how the dynamic of the industry is changing. It is about subverting copyright for the monetary gain of one company whilst pissing all over peoples right to privacy.

          1. M Gale

            You can add invisible digital watermarks.

            It's a form of steganography. Here is one company that you might want to look up, but there are others.

    2. M Gale

      "Surely rights holders groups have been doing this for years?"

      More than likely.

  2. sugerbear


    "It's an example of astroturf".

    I think they mean astroturfing.

    Unless google is demonstrating an artificial grass surface.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What does the EDM say, which one is it? A reference or link please. Is there any reason to suggest the EDM is in any way important?

    They are known as Parliamentary graffiti for a reason. 22 signatories means its going to be hidden way down the lists - a few hundred would be news possibly. Depending on when it was posted will determine whether 22 is a success or failure.

    I'm rather more interested in why Google is paying attention to such minor elements of the Government environment and has such a low number of supporting Parliamentarians.

    It's not really astroturf, asking ones allies and contacts to support a motion is rather normal for anyone (albeit sending emails to someone who's going to disagree and leak it does tend to raise an eyebrow). Only if they were deliberately paying for such support , artificially creating organisations to do so directly or subverting the goals of the consumer groups would it be of real concern.

  4. Phil Bennett


    I thought astroturfing was paying people to support you who otherwise wouldn't (fake grass roots) rather than sending out an alert email to people who have expressed an interest in an issue.

    As long as there isn't anything inappropriate going on (eg Google are paying Consumer Focus for support) then I'm not seeing anything requiring sarcastic quotes around 'independent' - if they add you to the email list, are you no longer 'independent'?

    Google are not a particularly nice company, and I disagree with a lot of their data-hoovering practices, but this isn't exactly sinister machinations in a smoke-filled back room.

    1. kissingthecarpet

      Re: Astroturf?

      Mind you, you'd find it hard these days to find a meeting in a "smoke-filled" back room, unless it was round someone's house, or something was on fire while the sinister machinations were machinating

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    astroturfing (n.) - what other people are doing to us, making us realize we could have done the same to them, but missed the opportunity, damn!

    1. Ian Yates

      Re: astroturfing

      Surely "(v.)"?

  6. Simon Dax

    And you still believe that rights-holders and creators should compromise with these people?

    Google earns billions of dollars a year in advertising revenue from other people's work, almost none of which reaches the rights-holders or the artists.

    The Safe-Harbour provisions of the DMCA were designed to protect service providers from the likes of the Church of Scientology, instead it's being used by Google to hide behind while they fill their boots. All the while claiming immunity because they didn't personally make the work available.

    It's hardly surprising that some within the industry favor a 'scorched earth' policy. The Megaupload case is one of their disasters which is already beginning to bite us on the arse.

    However even the most moderate members agree that the Google and service providers have to be made responsible for the content they carry subject to lawful fair use exceptions.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Google doesn't give a fuck about copyright

    Google, however, does give a rather large fuck about Google.


    Is that Sooty image used with the appropriate permissions?

  9. vic 4

    Reverse image search

    Maybe google could enhance their image search to use their reverse image search in an attempt to locate the original source?

    1. Rampant Spaniel

      Re: Reverse image search

      Potentially they could, it might find it in some cases. Consider this, you go to your local photography studio, you have a family portrait taken (either in the studio or onsite somewhere), you get your print / dvd , the photographer puts up a print at part of their portfolio, somebody takes a snap on a cell phone to show their friends (hey do you like this, thinking of getting one done etc) and now your family picture is out there and not associated with their photographer or you. Now a creative agency finds it via google image steal and you are walking down the street and your family shot is up on a billboard advertising whichever political party you dislike. You have no recourse, you cannot stop it.l

      Google has no incentive to make finding the photographer easier. The whole reason they want to do this is because they want to be the one stop shop 'agency' for any video /photography / books / music etc you want. They dont want to have to deal with the rights owners, they dont want them to have rights, they just want to sell stuff they dont own and dictate the other half of the deal. They cannot do it by force so they want to do it by law.

      Theres so much BS about how restricted access to orphan works is destroying the very fabric of the universe and is worse than clubbing baby seals. I have yet to hear of a single example where this is the case.

      1. kissingthecarpet

        Re:Re: Reverse image search

        I don't think your scenario is very likely. Why would anyone use a random photo for a relatively expensive(or sensitive or both) ad campaign - the risk of it backfiring in some way would be too high if you know nothing about the people pictured. In your example, if the Tories, say, used a photo like you suggest, it would be almost inevitable that a least one person pictured was a neo-Nazi, paedophile or serial killer. Or all three.

  10. Freshp2


    With all fairness I think google and others would like to see content creators/artist get paid for what they do, but they are most likely waiting for the right format to show up that all parties involved would be treated right. So they won't change their business model at all to suit anybody, if it's online it's going to ge searched and shared for free, we know the drill, but you should be checking and investing in those who just might have some clues answers or business model that might facilitate that need. Now anybody in business knows that, the next big thig, never looks like the next big thing. But I'm working on it.

    1. Simon Dax

      Re: VP

      If Google wants to see rights-holders and artists get paid for their work then why are they spending so much time, effort and money to avoid it?

      The Google review is about making it legal for them to simply help themselves to whatever they fancy without getting permission or paying for it.

  11. IPatentedItSoIOwnIt

    But it's OK for them..

    "But the idea of Google initiating legislative changes, and then using citizens groups to provide 'support' for them, disturbs industries affected by the changes."

    As opposed to:

    The Idea of MPAA and RIA creating legislation and forcing it through parliament with no debate or chance to challenge by OUR elected officials.

  12. MrF

    I think I've found a small error... the point in this article where you say, "The giant American corporation pays minimal corporation tax in the UK thanks to a series of complex legal avoidance mechanisms."

    That can't be right.

    Clearly, you meant to write, "The giant American corporation -- like many others, including Apple and Amazon -- pays minimal corporation tax in the UK thanks to a series of complex legal avoidance mechanisms."

    Presumably it's simply a typo; or perhaps you suffered a transient ischemic attack, mid-sentence? I look forward to seeing this corrected, as time -- and your taste for accurate, scrupulous and unbiased reportage -- allows.

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