Anyone questioning the nature of the new UK Orphan Works threat and of those lobbying for such laws only had to read last Thursday’s Guardian for enlightenment. In it they could find an article by one Stephen Edwards calling for the coalition government to introduce OW legislation.
Edwards’ arguments were pretty much the usual stuff: people are being robbed of access to valuable cultural material because it is too impractical or costly for those in possession of the material, but not the rights, to obtain permission to distribute it. He added an extra twist though – this situation is all the fault of photographers who campaigned to have Clause 43 removed from the Digital Economy Bill last April:
“The government should move now to reintroduce the orphan works and extended collective licensing provisions, which the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were instrumental in removing from the digital economy bill when they were in opposition. They sided with a lobby campaign mounted by photographers against these provisions, effectively sealing up archives in which photographs either form no part (radio), or in which they are of relatively small importance (television).”
But Edwards was being misleading. Firstly there has never been any argument from photographers against unlocking cultural archives: their objection has been to the commercial exploitation of OW by corporations with a vested interest in – and in many cases a history of – creating orphans, thereby robbing artists of ownership of their own creations.
And secondly Edwards oddly neglected to mention – it’s called disclosure of interest – his own business connection with copyright legislation. When not propagandising in the Guardian Edwards’ day job is at top legal firm Reed Smith; specifically he is part of their so-called Social & Digital Media Task Force. And what does he do there? According Legal 500:
“At Reed Smith, broadcasting specialist Stephen Edwards advised the BBC on its negotiations for blanket licences with the Performing Rights Society and the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society regarding broadcasting on different platforms. He acted for Channel Four in obtaining a new statutory definition of its remit, and advises the European Broadcasting Union on copyright law reforms.”
So what we have in the Guardian is an article by an apparently disinterested observer who in fact is employed as an advisor to one of the prime commercial interests that lobbied for the adoption of OW earlier this year: the BBC. And guess where Edwards worked before he joined Reed Smith? Why, at the BBC, as Head of Copyright.
There is of course nothing wrong with Edwards bigging up OW in the Guardian or anywhere else: it’s called lobbying. But if he’s to continue to do so he ought to consider including his CV in future articles: it is after all relevant and useful information for the reader.
On the other hand if he prefers to operate undercover here’s a suggestion for his next article: a tutorial on covert manipulation of the media for the benefit of one’s clients.