British National Arts Program Aims To Rob Thousands Of Kids Of Their Copyrights

from the and-for-no-good-reason-at-that dept

Face Britain, a national collaborative art project in the UK, is collecting children’s self-portraits to build an online gallery and a composite portrait of the Queen, among other things. It’s all pretty harmless school-activity stuff, until you notice that the release form includes the extreme requirement that parents transfer “all intellectual property rights, including copyright” to the foundation that runs the program. Such a requirement is not unheard of, but is rarely necessary and should be justified—but when The Register reached out to boss Jeremy Newton to ask about it, his response demonstrated that he just doesn’t know the first thing about copyright:

“We weren’t sure how we’d change the images for this big projection. We need a legal power to use the image which is flexible enough for us to blend it into an image of the Queen, that the whole image revolves around,” said Newton.

The chief executive believes that the intellectual property acquisition only applies to the photographic reproduction of the artwork. He said: “The ownership of the creative artwork remains with the child and the school – they can keep it and use it however they wish. We don’t take ownership of the creative artwork.”

He did, however, appear to be unclear on just how extensive those rights are in reality, and added: “The issue on licensing is not as simple as saying that children are the creators. They use brushes and paints other people have given them. They create the image in school or at home.”

Um, what? Let’s look at this piece by piece.

Firstly, the “legal power” they need can easily be obtained with a blanket license—the kind that countless websites obtain on user-generated content. From Newton’s phrasing, it sounds like they didn’t want to bother looking into it, so they just required the most extreme transfer of rights they could think of in order to cover all their bases. Shame.

Secondly, I’m baffled by the distinction Newton tries to make between the copyright and the “creative artwork” itself. Presumably by “creative artwork” he means the original physical portrait, which remains in the hands of the student. But to say they can “use it however they wish” is misleading at best—if the copyright has been transferred in its entirety to someone else, then there are all sorts of limitations on what they can do with it.

Finally, it doesn’t matter who gives an artist their “brushes and paints” nor whether they created it “in school or at home”. There may genuinely be some authorship questions when it comes to younger kids who are directly assisted by parents and teachers, but if that’s the case, nobody can hand over the copyrights until those questions are resolved anyway.

What this really points to is one of the biggest overall problems with copyright law: it’s so complicated that a lot of people go way overboard with their restrictions and requirements rather than figuring out what rights they actually need. But that doesn’t let Face Britain off the hook, either: when you’re running a fun project involving thousands of kids, there’s no excuse for being sloppy about this stuff. Newton says he is going to add an explanation for the rights transfer to the website, but that’s not a solution at all. No rights transfer is necessary, and what he should really be doing is replacing that draconian clause with a more reasonable license agreement, which is all they ever needed in the first place.

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Comments on “British National Arts Program Aims To Rob Thousands Of Kids Of Their Copyrights”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Work for Hire?

“Work for Hire” provisions, to the extent they are contained in the provisions as a country’s national laws, vary widely from country to country. One commonality that seems to underlie those with which I am familiar is that they are based upon contract law; i.e., either an employment contract or a commissioning contract.

As basic tenet of contract law is that all parties must have the legal capacity to enter into a binding contract. Otherwise, the contract is of no force and effect. In the US, and almost certainly in the UK, children below the age of majority are deemed as a matter of law to lack the requisite legal capacity to enter into a contract. There are some very narrow exceptions to this rule of contract law, but on the basis of situation in this matter it clear they would not come into play.

Hence, work for hire would almost surely fall by the wayside, and any transfer of rights on this basis would be legally ineffective and unenforceable.

Anonymous Coward says:

The assumption is that the IP and copyright requirements are extreme.

I do not know about you people but I for one do not have any desire to fight the IP alphabet soup and as such find it a bit on the very conservative side.

The issue for a honest aggravator is not what the law states but what the most dishonest of the artist and their lawyer believes that they can get away with.

If the makes money then it is obvious to the most sue crazed individual and their lawyer that what every part their played in the production, performance, presentation, et is worth at least if not more than the total revenue received. Multiply this attitude by the number of potential claimants plus other cost and it is easy to see that total cost of the venture can easily be hundreds of times all revenue received.

If of course you do not like this attitude then you can always discuss the issue with the law creators but until such time until the law is changes this response is the only safe course.

Anonymous Coward says:

>”The issue on licensing is not as simple as saying that children are the creators. They use brushes and paints other people have given them. They create the image in school or at home.”

If this were true then everything the music industry has done is either owed to the tech industry or the instruments industry. Defend the above perspective, paywall bob.

Overcast (profile) says:

Actually, if the school provides the brushes and paints and “studio space” for the little artists, couldn’t an argument be made that this is a work-for-hire in which case the school legitimately holds the copyright anyway? Or does money have to be exchanged for a work-for-hire situation to exist?

It would seem in that case, it might bring many questions to the table about child labor law.

The Devil's Coachman (profile) says:

This, in a country that still has royalty. I'm shocked.

“God save the queen.
She ain’t no human being.”

That is as applicable today as it was in 1977 when The Sex Pistols sang it. Any country that still coddles royalty, supporting their parasitic existence on the taxes raised on the broken backs of the working class, deserves ridicule and contempt.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This, in a country that still has royalty. I'm shocked.

I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. Britain really should get rid of those leeches. Right-wing politicians always whine about poor people exploiting the state. But what about insanely rich people who through historical accident are somehow entitled to millions of pounds of taxpayer money? That’s pretty insane in this day and age, IMHO.

Overcast (profile) says:

From Leigh’s link…

In conclusion, while we can explain the provisions in the copyright act, each case in the real world has to be considered on its own merits and as such, only a Court can rule with certainty as to how the provisions apply. For further clarity on this issue, you may wish to seek advice from a Solicitor.

So in other words – instead of a clear definition, they want to keep it open as a revenue source for the courts and the lawyers – now we are getting to the real point of all this ‘copyright’ BS.

Anonymous Coward says:

There are really only a very few “legal” concerns present here.

First, the charity, quite reasonably, should make sure that parents/guardians, assent to the uploading of the images by their children/wards.

Second, the charity, also quite reasonably, should make sure that the parents/guardians understand the uses the charity will make of the uploads, and it should secure assent to such uses, including privacy rights.

This is easily accomplished in a relatively short paragraph largely devoid of legalese.

You are quite correct that a transfer of ownership of all rights associated with individual portraits is overkill and quite unnecessary. A simply “license”, along the lines and in a form as suggested above, is more than sufficient.

Pjerky (profile) says:

Seems more like an ignorant mistake

I think your being a bit hard on these guys. It seems more like the confusing complexity of copyright is the real failure here. It lead them to believe that they needed far more copyright protection than they really did. It just isn’t clear cut enough. Its lame, but it seems like they just took the ignorant approach of covering their asses.

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