Did the UK just abolish copyright?

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The UK's new copyright regime has been dubbed the "Instagram Act"

Remember when Instagram tried to grab everybody's photos, and backed down amid a storm of bad publicity? The whole thing was completely unnecessary, because the UK government was planning to give all your stuff to corporations anyway.

That's The Register's take on it, anyway: it's dubbed the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act the "Instagram Act" and reckons corporations are going to start nicking and selling your stuff.

Is The Register right? The Copyright Blog certainly thinks so. "The UK abolished copyright today," Dominic Young writes. Did it?

Who's the daddy?

The fury is over the way the new legislation handles "orphan works", which are copyrighted works whose owner can't be identified. Under existing law it's not OK to use them without permission: if you can't find the owner to get that permission, tough.

Under the new legislation, however, all you need to do is conduct a "diligent search" to trace the owner - and if you don't find him, her or it, then you can go ahead and use, adapt or sell their work.

The worry is that "diligent" will actually mean "half-arsed": when, say, a famously copyright-averse online newspaper decides it wants to rip off your stuff without payment, it'll claim it tried and failed to find you.

Essentially, critics say, it takes the "if it's on the internet I can use it for free" argument and enshrines it in law.

I get that argument, but I'm not convinced by the idea that suddenly everything you upload to Facebook or Instagram or Twitter is going to end up used by commercial entities without permission or payment - or at least, that it's going to happen any more than it does already.

As it stands now, if a big company rips you off, unless you're loaded your only real recourse is to create a Twitter mob to make them look bad and pay up. Under the new legislation, if a big company rips you off... you know where I'm going.

It all hinges on that "diligent search" thing: as Alex Hern writes in the New Statesman, unless "diligent" really does end up meaning "we asked Dave in the office and he said 'no idea'", the issue might not affect many people at all.

What worries me isn't the orphan works bit. It's the bit that says in future, politicians will be able to change copyright law without getting Parliament's permission.

When you have a government that just loves unaccountable tech giants who lobby for changes to copyright law, anything that makes such changes subject to less scrutiny is cause for concern.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.