Withdrawal of rights


A couple of weeks ago this blog posted an article on using photographs and the pitfalls associated with image rights. Anyone around social media since then will not have failed to notice tweets and posts highlighting the “withdrawal of rights” to a well-known image of the Prime Minister, Chancellor and Mayor of London from their student days at Oxford.

Dressed in their throwback Bullingdon Club outfits they pose with ‘tomorrow belongs to me’ expressions (except for Boris who looks rather tired) an image of privilege, arrogance and vulgar wealth. I expect they don’t love being reminded of that episode but these things are of limited political impact. A couple of people asked me why they would withdraw the image now and what difference does it make?

Well, in answer to the first part of the question, this is a very old story indeed. The media rights to the image were withdrawn by Oxford photographers Gilman and Soame in 2007, they claimed “for commercial reasons”. Although conspiracy theorists some will see the dark hand of secret meetings in the Calrton Club and old-boy college networks and undue pressure at play Gilman and Soame have always insisted otherwise. The photographers’ commercial interests look pretty clear to me – the firm, who specialise in school, college and regimental photos have a lot to lose by being seen as ‘leaky’ and untrustworthy to institutions whose charges might not want their embarrassing late teenage hairstyle in the papers when they become, whatever. After all these people are born to rule, are they not?

Why does the story appear now? Sorry folks, no X-file here either, just the release of a movie called “The Riot Club” which dramatises the activities of the Bullingdon posse. A little bit of media talk does an awful lot for a movie, particularly one with mixed reviews, so if there is any conspiracy here it’s one to put multiple bums on multiplex seats.

So what difference does it make to sharing the image on social networks? According to Jane Coney, Public Impact’s Creative Director and image rights expert whose wrote the article, there has been absolutely no change.

Jane says, “Nothing changed for social media users even when the media rights to image were withdrawn in 2007. Prior to that rights were licenced by the photographers, now they are not – but at all times the copyright was owned by the photographers. So publishing the image, this is what sharing on social media is, either before or after the image was withdrawn was an infringement of copyright. The waters are muddied because some copyright owners activity encourage image sharing.”

A small firm in Oxford is unlikely to have the resources to take legal action against the many thousands of people sharing an image. We can only speculate on their attitude were the item to be printed in a political leaflet without permission, but it illustrates well why campaign organisers and candidates shouldn’t assume that the appearance of images on social media sites has changed any aspect of copyright law – it hasn’t.

John Howarth @johnhowarth1958

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