There have been a couple of recent developments in our industry that have been receiving a lot of heat lately – firstly, Adobe’s move to put Photoshop CS on subscription only, and secondly, the recently signed (25 April) British Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 – or specifically, one portion of it dealing with copyright and orphaned works. I’ve had some time to chew over both of these issues and how they affect the average photographer – both the amateur and the professional. I’m afraid the overall prognosis isn’t good, but it also isn’t as bad as a lot of people are making it out to be.
Photoshop CS subscriptions
Given that a) Photoshop was actually never meant to be used for photography, b) the vast majority of amateurs are on Lightroom, and c) Adobe has been trying to push most photographic users towards LR anyway, it’s actually not a big deal. In fact, the price of LR has even fallen. For most users, it’s status quo – unless you’re trying to get a workflow going that gives you the best balance of control and speed, in which case you’re pretty much in the pro category when it comes to postprocessing.
Lightroom is actually a better tool for batch processing than Photoshop – for wedding and event pros, you’re probably not using that much Photoshop anyway except for the one or two hero shots that need to be retouched properly. For the rest of us, we simply can’t use LR: this is because its main shortcomings are also the ones that matter most. Firstly, there’s the whole problem of parametric editing; some tonal looks need to have operations performed in sequence to achieve, but LR doesn’t permit this. Secondly, there’s very little control over dodging and burning, and even then it’s kludgy. Thirdly, the obvious missing portion has to do with the retouching and digital imaging parts: no layers, very limited retouching tools, and no way to composite in text or other images etc.
Even then, the reality is that Photoshop CS has had all the tools pros have needed for many generations now; I only recently upgraded from CS3 because none of the cameras I was using were supported natively in ACR, and there were some updates to how CS5.5 addressed memory and 64bit operating environments; when you have to process thousands of files a week, that extra step via the DNG converter starts to add up in terms of computer time. That said, if the choice is between slowly bleeding money indefinitely for features I’m probably not going to use (and I think I use more than most because I also use Photoshop for illustration and layout work) and spending a few minutes more per batch, I’d rather spend a few minutes.
Adobe’s argument is that this way, subscribers will always have the latest version; it makes sense if there are features that still don’t quite work right for you, and you could benefit from an upgrade. I’m not in that camp, and I think most serious photographers haven’t been for some time now. The only thing that could make me consider an upgrade is a significant change to the back end that might make handling large files faster; when dodging and burning large areas of D800E files, there’s definitely some lag in the brushes – especially when they start going over 2000px in size, and are feathered. I’m not running an old, slow, or ram-deficient system, either.
My guess is that Adobe isn’t going to back down and offer a regular outright-buy version unless there’s an enormous outcry; the reality is that creative pros who spend all of their lives in front of Photoshop will probably continue to pay if they have no choice, simply because they have no choice: there is no other alternative software suite, and even if there was, you’d have to completely re-adapt and re-learn your workflow. I know I wouldn’t, and as much as this gives Adobe some sort of justification to wallet-rape me, if push came to shove, I’d pay. That said, it makes me wonder how they’re going to handle educational versions etc.
Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013
This one is a bit stickier. Buried in hundreds of pages of legislation (full version here) is a little clause (68) that gives UK companies or individuals the right to:
- Use ‘orphaned’ [creative, including photographic] works after a ‘diligent search has been made in accordance with the regulations’
- Allow third parties to grant licenses to other parties on those works, but no further than that (no sub-licensing)
- It doesn’t grant exclusive rights to any user
- The Secretary of State has the right to issue licenses for use of creative work
The crux of the problem is this: what does ‘diligent’ entail? Who determines if a sufficient effort has been made or not, and if it’s the Secretary of State – which is implied – then how is this objective if they also have the right to grant licenses to use the work? Moreover, does it apply to only UK works, or international works? How is a domestic regulatory body going to ensure that a ‘diligent’ international search has been made, if say the information or copyright holder doesn’t speak English or doesn’t come up on any conventional searches? What recourse does the copyright holder have if they discover their work has been used under this exception, and it’s easy to find attribution all along (i.e. the user didn’t bother to look properly)?
Public reaction to this has been rather serious, and understandably so. The problem is not that people are going to use works they can’t find the copyright owners to; this is nothing new and the reality is that it’s been going on for ages. Image theft is an unhappy reality of being online: I’ve had my fair share of images stolen and used for advertising or other commercial gain, even though a) I never upload anything full-size – for this reason – and b) everything is watermarked. I don’t think this law is going to change things substantially to the kinds of people who don’t respect the law anyway.
Here, my advice to all photographers – amateur or professional – is the same: if you don’t value your own work, nobody else will. This means common sense protection like embedding copyright info, contact info and artist info into your EXIF data; watermarking all images; and not uploading anything that is of sufficient size/ quality to use for commercial work. The paradox is of course you want your images to be seen in the best light possible, but at the same time, you don’t want them stolen. This is, and always has been a risk of being online and visible; the better your images, the more unscrupulous people tend to get.
I’ve seen major companies here use famous images from other photographers for advertising – badly done and out of context, on billboards, no less – and I’m sure that the agencies representing these photographers wouldn’t have authorized such usage. Generally though, if you are part of one of the bigger agencies, they tend to protect the images with an iron fist: it is after all their revenue too. In turn, this protects your images – never mind the fact the rates these days tend to be weighted criminally in favour of the agencies.
The bottom line is that you have to do your bit to protect your own work, because nobody else is going to do it for you. Exercise your legal rights if you find somebody has stolen work: a civil email is often enough, but if that fails and it’s a blatant rip, send a cease-and-desist. Threaten to litigate. It might not be worthwhile to take things that far, but it might also scare the offenders enough into complying. In terms of this site, nothing changes anyway – aside from the trademark black border staying firmly in place, nothing much changes for me because all of the images I have online are very easily traceable (via Flickr, or this site) – so there won’t be any change in output from this end. MT
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