24 October 2010

Copyrighting Stonehenge

Nice stock photo, eh?

English Heritage put its trowel in its mouth last week, when it sent a vaguely threatening email to blog Photolibra asserting that it owns exclusive commercial rights to photos of Stonehenge:
We are sending you an email regarding images of Stonehenge in your fotoLibra website. Please be aware that any images of Stonehenge can not be used for any commercial interest, all commercial interest to sell images must be directed to English Heritage.
Fotolibra rightly asks about the legitimacy and enforceability of this idiotic claim:
Firstly, what legitimacy do they have for this claim? Is there any law that states that it is illegal to use images of Stonehenge for any commercial interest? Can someone direct me to it?

Secondly, if an image of Stonehenge is so used, how could they possibly police the usage?

Tax this, ye fookin quango

Boing Boing, Techdirt, and Slashdot all went to town on this foolishness, prompting a clarification from English Heritage, which basically says whoops, sorry, we were just talking about the fee you're supposed to pay for commercial photography at the henge:
if a commercial photographer enters the land within our care with the intention of taking a photograph of the monument for financial gain, we ask that they pay a fee and abide by certain conditions. English Heritage is a non-profit making organisation and this fee helps preserve and protect Stonehenge for the benefit of future generations.
Photoradar reports this fee is about £75. A Boingboing commenter joked that Egypt would try to claim ownership of the US $1 bill, since there's a pyramid on the back, but it's not too far off - Egypt has in fact made moves to copyright its antiquities and try to control them through licensing.

This is all part of the diseased copyright extremism currently gripping society - not too far from the RIAA's claim that you should pay them a fee every time you sing a Lady Gaga song in the shower. The idea that everything we reference something in our culture we should pay a fee to the 'rights holder' is not only absurd, but sick - it's the free exchange of ideas that will make everyone freer, happier, and richer. And people are attracted to cultural heritage precisely because it's a huge, free database of ideas that can be freely remixed into our lives and identities. Trying to control that will never work - but it could definitely produce a lot of hostility toward heritage agencies that try.

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