Labour and Tory Cameron Ashes to Ashes poster row

The Labour and Conservative Parties have been accused of copyright theft by photographers following their latest poster stunts.

The Labour ad, the result of a competition where party activists were invited to answer an online brief set by Saatchi and Saatchi, showed David Cameron sitting on the bonnet of a red Audi Quattro with the line ‘Don’t let him take Britain Back to the 1980s.”

The ad took the BBC TV series Ashes to Ashes as its inspiration, and David Cameron was cast in the role of Gene Hunt.

However, the Conservatives believed such comparisons were actually good for Cameron’s image. Within hours they launched their own version of the poster, which featured the same picture with the line “Fire up the Quattro. It’s time for change.” Appearing in small print was the secondary line: “(Idea kindly donated by the Labour Party)”

But what is exercising photographers is who donated the photograph on which both posters are based. A campaign group called Stop43, which aims to stop a provision in the new Digital bill which will see photographers lose key rights, says the use of the pictures almost certainly represent a breach of copyright.

The posters themselves show Cameron’s head super-imposed onto the Gene Hunt character, who was shot sitting on the bonnet of his car. Adding extra fizz to the controversy is the issue that the actor who plays Hunt, Philip Glenister, is said to be unhappy about how the picture has been used.

Today the Stop43 website asked a series of key questions including:

1. Does the Labour Party have a Licence to Use this image for this purpose? This is a publicity (PR) picture - a PR Licence does not normally permit use for party political advertising. We won't know unless and until someone produces a Licence to Use, and whether that Licence includes advertising. If not, they are in breach of copyright.

2. If they do have such a Licence, from whom did they obtain it? Monastic Productions, Kudos Film & Television or BBC Worldwide? (the organizations behind the TV series)

3. Why was it granted? On the evidence of this picture, the BBC almost certainly holds rights in all publicity images from the series. The BBC is prohibited by its charter from engaging in partisan political activity.

4. Has the Conservative Party also licensed the image from the rights holders for this purpose? Again we won't know unless and until someone produces a Licence to Use, and whether that Licence includes advertising. If not, they are in breach of copyright.

5. If they have licensed it, how, on a Bank Holiday? Of the three probable rights holders in the image, only the BBC is likely to have licensing staff working over the Easter weekend.

6. Does Philip Glenister’s contract allow the use of his image and performance for party political purposes without his prior permission?

The Stop43 campaign represents a broad range of photography group including the Association of Photographers and the NUJ Photographers. It explains on its website:

“You’ll have heard of the Digital Economy Bill: it introduces powers to cut your Internet connection if you're caught illegally downloading films, music or software. It does more than that. It takes your photographs from you, too.

”Until now, if someone found one of your photographs and wanted to use it commercially, they couldn't without first asking you. Clause 43 changes all that by allowing the use of “Orphan Works” - photographs, illustrations and other artworks whose owners cannot be found.

"Clause 43 says that if someone finds your photograph, wants to use it and decides that they can’t trace you, they can do whatever they like with it after paying an arbitrary fee to a UK Government-appointed “licensing body”. You’ll never know unless you happen to find it being used in this way, in which case you should be able to claim some money.”

The issue is why it believes the Cameron posters are particularly pertinent:

”People wonder why photographers make such a noise about breach of copyright, Orphan Works and Extended Collective Licensing. This is exactly the kind of “misrepresentation” that these schemes will promote.

”If Labour and Conservative parties can't even understand normal licensing procedure themselves, then how can they be trusted to legislate changes to it?”

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