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Serbian photojournalists appeal against threat to copyright

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Photojournalists in Serbia appealed to lawmakers on Monday to reject a proposal by the ruling party to define their work as the result of a “routine mechanical act” and therefore not worthy of copyright protection.

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Photojournalists in Serbia frequently complain that newspapers and Internet portals publish their pictures without payment, ready to risk being sued in Serbia’s overloaded, inefficient and sometimes corrupt courts.

The ruling Serbian Progressive Party’s latest proposal to parliament would legalise such theft, photojournalists warned.

“Every routinely made photograph, which appears and is taken in electronic form, regardless of whether it is the true original creation of an author, will cease to enjoy protection as the creation of an author,” the proposal states.

News photographs, according to the proposed “interpretation” of the law, are “the result purely of mechanical actions, of routine, physical actions”.

Dusica Stojkovic of the Progressive Party, submitting the motion last week, said the aim was to distinguish between authentic artistic creations and “selfies ... (or) photos made in public places every day”.

But Srdjan Ilic, head of the Association of Photographers of Serbia, told Reuters: “Such an interpretation (of the law) would mean anyone is allowed to take whatever they like (from photographers) and publish it. Nothing would be exclusive anymore.”

“This is not good for the public, for the media or for photographers,” he said.

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has denied accusations from his critics that his government has stifled media freedom.

A former ultranationalist, he has rebranded himself a pro-Western reformer and expects to win a new mandate to take Serbia towards membership of the European Union in a snap election within months.

Zvezdan Mancic of the Belgrade-based Centre for the Development of Photography warned that if news photography continued to be “devastated” in Serbia, “we will get a profession of people totally uninterested in informing the public in the correct and just way”.

Editing by Matt Robinson and Louise Ireland