21 Apr 2009
The National Trust (NT) is a fine organisation, on the whole. It does wonderful work protecting the UK's heritage and landscape. I was even a member when I lived in the UK. But it has recently shown an ugly side, too.
Numerous professional photographers who have stock pictures with the Alamy agency have just been told that some of their images are being removed from the library. These are pictures of NT properties and it's the NT that has requested their removal.
The National Trust is a charity. But that's not who is going after the photographers. NT Enterprises Ltd is the profit-making, commercial arm of the organisation and incorporates the NT Picture Library (NTPL). Apparently, the NTPL feels it deserves a monopoly on pictures of NT properties.
The National Trust places severe restrictions on photography. It states that visitors may use pictures they take purely for personal consumption. And that's fair enough if you have paid to enter the property (in which case you are effectively entering into an agreement with the NT). But it is possible to photograph many NT properties without even knowing you're doing it - and certainly without being aware of or agreeing to any terms and conditions. These properties aren't just buildings - they can include areas of land, so landscape photographers beware.
It's possible to take a picture while walking on publicly and freely accessible land only to have the NT descend on you and tell you you have no right to do what you want with your own pictures.
If you can show that the picture was taken from a public road or footpath, the NT will back down. It has to. It doesn't have a legal leg to stand on. But what about if you were on NT land but didn't pay to be there - such as a coastal footpath? There's no way you could be aware of the NT's photography restrictions and it's highly unlikely they could impose them retrospectively.
The attempt by the NT to unilaterally and retroactively impose restrictions and limits on the use of your own pictures is both immoral and legally dubious.
Besides which, this is supposed to be our heritage and our land for which they are just the custodians.
The NT is being extremely heavy-handed and arrogant by adopting this aggressive stance, and only backing down when challenged.
By attacking photographers via Alamy (and possibly other agencies) the NT may be guilty of restriction of trade. There's more on the Copyright Action site.
Meanwhile, the NT is running a competition - dubbed 'Picture Yourself'. Like so many photo competitions these days, it seems little more than a cheap way of building a stock of images. How so? Because by entering the competition you hand the NT full rights to exploit your pictures any way they like.
The website for the competition has made one serious technical error. Entries to the competition are displayed on the site without any apparent vetting. The inestimable Pro-Imaging.org site has a campaign against rights grabbing by competitions and has designed a 'spoiler' image for just such occasions, and so visitors to the NT competition were treated to the following 'entry':
Needless to say, it was soon taken down. But it was just as soon reposted. Quickly, other photographers joined in the fun. Copyright Action's web page shows some of the best entries, my current favourite being:
It doesn't end there, either. As Copyright Action has pointed out here and here, clauses in the rules for other NT supported competitions not only forbid you to place pictures of NT properties into photo libraries or otherwise use them commercially, they also attempt to prevent you entering them into any competitions that the NT hasn't approved. So even amateur photographers could fall foul of the NT's Draconian, greedy and arrogant rights grabs.