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.