The picture that may never again be possible

Senate bill S-9 and the recent interim report on copyright reform by the Parliamentary Committee on Canadian Heritage recommends significant changes to copyright law. Unintended consequences of these changes include preventing Canadians from easily loaning their camera to someone else to take their picture.

I will use an example from last weekend to illustrate the problem. I strongly oppose these recommendations, and ask that other Canadians also talk to their elected representatives about this problem.

Happy Durga Puja

The Bengali community held this years Durga Puja on the weekend of October 23, hosted by the Deshantari of Ottawa Carleton. Durga Puja is the most important festival for Bangalis, much like Christmas is for Christians. Like Christmas it is a time to dress up in good clothing, go to religious and social events, and visit with friends you may not have seen in some time.

One of the common occurrences is to have your picture taken in front of the deities. I did as many people do: grab someone nearby, hand them my camera, and ask them to take my picture.

(Caption: Rina Sen and Russell McOrmond in front of deities at Deshantari hosted Durga Puja, October 23, 2004)

The problems of Copyright Reform

If the proposed changes are passed it will be the person who took the picture, rather than the owner of the camera, that will be the copyright holder. I would no longer be able to hand my camera to someone to take the picture unless I first got them to sign a contract that transferred copyright back to me. This is an unreasonable expectation.

Parliament seems to believe they are fixing an exception to the general authorship rules in copyright, but are actually breaking the copyright act in a way that will be very different than the expectations of Canadians. When a picture is taken on my camera, absent an agreement to the contrary, I should be the copyright holder. This is how the copyright act has worked since cameras were invented and policy makers added photography to the act. Under the collective amnesia of parliament the logic of the existing copyright act has been forgotten.

I invite all Canadian citizens to contact their members of parliament and let them know they do not agree with this change. Assure them that you are not questioning the artistic merits of photography or the rights of photographers, but recognizing that photography is quite different than other art forms. Professional photographers will continue to have contract law to ensure that their rights are protected for commissioned photographs, and this issue should not be allowed to be used as a distraction for far more important issues.

The common and widely accepted practices of citizens must be supported by law if this law is to receive any respect. The most likely outcome from these proposed changes is to induce massive amounts of copyright infringements by Canadians as they apply common sense, ignore a broken law, and carry on as they always have.

This article and picture are Copyright 2004 Russell McOrmond, and licensed under the Creative Commons License
Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike License.