Larry Cohen suggests a simple way of curbing the paparazzi

Larry Cohen suggests a simple way of curbing the paparazzi. Larry Cohen is head of the intellectual property unit at Hammond Suddards.. With public confidence in the press at an all-time low and Lord Wakeham's review of the rules governing privacy and harassment seeming to promise little more than greater self-regulation, the time may be right to look at a legal solution to the paparazzi problem.

In fact, a small change to copyright law could provide an effective response to public concern at the way the paparazzi and other freelance photographers ply their trade.

The Copyright, Design & Patents Act 1988 asserts that fair dealing with a work (other than a photograph) for the purpose of reporting current events does not infringe any copyright in the work provided that it is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgment.

In other words, freelance photographers own the copyright to their photographic images and a photo cannot be copied or sold on from one publication to another. A photographer with a saleable product knows that individual publications have to buy the photo for themselves. This creates multiple and extremely lucrative markets, inflating prices and so encouraging freelance photographers to go to extreme lengths to get that picture.

By removing the words "other than a photograph" from the the Act, a huge blow would be dealt against the market for the type of picture that has caused such public concern. Under the changed wording, the photographer would still own the copyright of the image but, crucially, there would be no infringement of copyright if the photo were to be used to report current news events.

Other media organisations could then copy and use the photo in reporting news, also without infringing copyright. A legal precedent to support this comes from a judgment in the dispute between the BBC and Sky TV over the right to show sporting highlights as part of a news programme.

Put simply, if there is less money to be made from these pursuit pictures, fewer freelance photographers will wish to push the boundaries of the law, safety and decency to the limits as they have been doing in recent years.