Copyright law breakers, including those who regard online photos as easy prey, face a potential flood of lawsuits from photographers now equipped with an easier and cheaper legal process.

Image designed by Antony Green

Intellectual property disputes can now be resolved using the ‘small claims track’ in the Patents County Court (PCC), following a Government announcement of a ‘simpler and easier’ system last month.


Photographers can pursue damages for breach of copyright, for up to £5,000, without even appointing a solicitor, unlike before where they may have been put off by a potentially long, and expensive, legal fight.

Furthermore, the damages limit may rise to £10,000 under Ministry of Justice proposals, possibly as early as next year.

Crucially, under the new system, photographers can avoid the prospect of a lengthy court battle and the fear of having to pay the legal fees of the successful party if they lose.

A guide published by the HM Courts & Tribunal Service confirms: ‘The general principle that the unsuccessful party will pay the legal costs of the successful party does not apply on the small claims track.’

Legal fees are capped at £260, though the losing party would be required to make a payment of £90 per day for the loss of earnings of each party, or witness, attending any hearing.

They would also have to pay a small claims fee of up to £120, according to the Royal Courts of Justice, though this can be as little as £50 for a claim of £300-500.

The case would not require a court hearing if a judge deems that the entire case can be dealt with on paper.

Online copyright grabs

People who pluck photos from the internet without permission could face a barrage of lawsuits over coming months, say legal experts.

Photography rights lawyer Charles Swan, from London-based solicitors Swan Turton, expects photographers to be the biggest winners in an internet age where, he says, 80-90% of copyright infringement is online.

Though he knows of only two current cases, Swan believes it is only a matter of time before photographers become aware of this ‘very useful facility’, where previously it was ‘not economical’ to pursue damages through a lawyer.

‘I think there are going to be far more [cases] soon, once it catches on,’ Swan tells Amateur Photographer.

‘It’s good news for photographers… It’s do-it-yourself justice.

‘The whole idea is that you don’t need a lawyer to represent you in court.’

It will effectively allow photographers to boost their earnings, by receiving the fees they are due.

‘I think it will have an effect on the [photo] industry in general. People who regularly infringe copyright will get the message.’

Edinburgh law firm Shepherd & Wedderburn says the small claims option may encourage people to take legal action where, before, they may not have done.

‘If an individual can bring a claim for copyright infringement with little risk of costs this may open the floodgates,’ says the firm on its website.

Though the PCC deals with cases in England and Wales, the system may have a wider reach.

‘Given the UK and EU-wide nature of intellectual property rights, the new procedure will be of relevance to Scottish businesses also,’ claims Shepherd & Wedderburn.

Photographers welcome move

The Bureau of Freelance Photographers (BFP) was quick to welcome the move.

The BFP points out that, previously, photographers faced a long wait when pursuing civil actions through their local county court – ‘before eventually coming before a judge who often has little or no experience of copyright issues’.

In its November Market Newsletter, the organisation adds: ‘The new procedure is intended to be user-friendly, with hearings in a judge’s chambers rather than a courtroom.

‘Decisions can also be made on written documents alone or even following a telephone hearing…

‘It has been too easy for infringers to calculate that a copyright owner would be reluctant to pursue a case where the cost of enforcement might be greater than the value of the claim.’

Announcing the new system, on 1 October, Business Minister Michael Fallon said: ‘Lower legal costs will make it easier for entrepreneurs to protect their creative ideas where they had previously struggled to access justice in what could often be an expensive process.’


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  • James McDugal

    There is just so much misinformation out there, it makes the entire matter terribly confusing for the non-lawyer. Facebook pages like look VERY appealing, but if you post a comment citing actual legal advice, they delete it and ban you.

  • Karen

    To the person who wanted to know what happened to low prices? Would you work for a low wage? These people have to earn a living

  • ABC

    It is easier than ever to find copies of your photos online. Google Images now has the facility to drag and drop images directly into the search field. It then analyzes the image data and searches for instances of that image online. I was shocked to find one of my photos reused hundreds of times on ‘Tumblr’.

  • ralph

    I would suggest using a visible watermark,as it can deter 99% of theft,with tools like Mass Watermark its been much easier to watermark photos

  • Simon

    What the Business Minister failed to say is that this government are planning widespread removal of creators rights by introducing Orphan Works and Extended Collective Licensing. Jointly, these two changes to copyright are creating a legal framework for commercial infringement of creators rights on an industrial scale.

    Who would have thought it? A Conservative government denying creators their property rights…

    These proposals are being resisted by many, including Stop43 – see

  • Ian Lyall

    Can someone tell me what is new about this.I have been doing this through the County Court for the last 25 years!

  • Law lord

    Can someone tell me what is New about this! I have been doing these claims through the County Court for the past 25yrs?

  • Josh Sterrett

    This is great. Does it only apply to UK-based photographers? How about photographers based overseas?

  • Pete Jenkins

    About time too. The NUj has been working towards this for a very long time. Now we need to see moral rights treated sensibly too (the right to be recognised as the creator of ones work for example)

  • Richard Bingham

    A good step forward, but it appears that this only applies in England. I hope the Scottish legal system will follow suit.

  • Rich

    I would be a bit more sympathetic to these guys if the photos weren’t such a rip-off.

    Lets be honest, the majority are not great quality for a professional photography organisation.

    What happened to the low price, high demand theory?