It may seem an obscure topic, but today is World Intellectual Property Day. The history is more interesting than you’d imagine.  Only two years after the Unification of the Scottish and English Parliaments, in 1707, the origins of copyright laws were established in “The Statute of Anne, the Copyright Act 1709”, or to give it its full title, “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned”.  The period of Queen Anne not only bequeathed to us some exquisite table legs, but also the legal principle that ownership of an intangible work could be asserted, as it could be to a plot of land, building or any other asset.

This copyright was originally applied to written works, and was of course prompted by the technology to duplicate text in volume by means of the printing press.  Copyright not only conferred ownership and value on a work, but also a degree of control, which could proscribe its use, unless permission was granted by the owner.  To establish copyright, you need only assert it in an obvious manner, and for legal requirements have it recorded that you did so.  Showing the word Copyright, or symbol ©, at the bottom of this page is enough.

Whose goods these are
I think I know
His house is in the village though
He will not see me copying here
To fill my boots with unearned dough

Apologies to Robert Frost.

History lesson over, there have been perpetual arguments over just what can be protected by copyright.  Clearly we can all agree that books, poetry, songs (lyrics and tunes), movies, pictures and images.  Ideas and methods of doing something can be copyrighted too, such as the format of a TV show like “Big Brother”, or “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?”.  However the content of a picture cannot be copyrighted.  So the architect has no claim on pictures of his building, and a model has no claim on photos of them taken by a member of the public.  In this case the rights belong to the “artist” i.e the photographer.

Much as I’d like to, I have no ownership of my face, and a newspaper can use my image as often as they like, in order to sell more copies (unlikely I know, unless I slept with a footballer).  There are other laws and press guidelines that they need to observe, but a newspaper doesn’t even need to get my permission to print my picture. So how can some people, footballers and film stars then be in a position to sell and trade their “image rights”?  They can do this because they first establish a business which trades upon the sale of their “image”, and therefore has a commercial interest.  Such a commercial interest is enforceable, and enables for example the Elvis Presley estate to select which products to endorse, and the Beckhams to prevent any unauthorised use of their images, in the same way a company could assert ownership of its logo.  Effectively they affirm that their faces are their de facto logo.  Of course, these people are looking to control this because they have a commercial interest in doing so, and that any abuse of their image could be to their financial detriment.

Get to the point Stephen.

My point is this.  If newspapers sell copies on the strength of their content, and my face is plastered all over their front page, then I believe that I should be entitled to payment for the use of my image.  If I am involved in some newsworthy story, I accept that I cannot prevent a story being published, but I believe that if all content is owned by someone, then all content used for commercial gain should be paid for.  If a newspaper or website is selling advertising space at a going rate, then it’s easy to establish the value of each column inch and banner space.

PS. The image at the top comes from this site.

PPS. I’ll be writing a follow up post on the copyright issues for job adverts.

Stephen O'Donnell is a lifelong recruiter, internet enthusiast, fadgadget and peripatetic writer.

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