Monday, November 22, 2010

Protecting your photographs?

Viceroy ButterflyIn years past, when travelers returned home, they took their slide or negative film to the camera shop, the drug store, or the quick processing shop to have the film developed and made into slides or prints. A few hours or days later they picked up their photos to share with friends and family.

Today, with digital photography having replaced film photography, and the use of the Internet becoming ubiquitous, for most people, fewer and fewer prints or slides are being made, even at home. Photos are now viewed and shared in online galleries, and often by email, messaging, and cell phone transmission.

While some make their galleries private, most users never utilize their gallery's privacy and security tools, so their photos are available for anyone in the world to see, and if desired, copied for themselves.

These days, photos are often viewed by unintended gallery visitors and many are appropriated without the photographer's permission, sometimes for stolen profits.

Should you protect your photographs? Absolutely!
  • Your photos may show a private moment.
  • Your photos may show children who the photographer may want to protect.
  • Your photos may reveal aspects of your life which you may prefer to remain unknown, etc.
  • Whether and amateur, beginner, or advanced enthusiast, the photos you create belong to you, and should be prevented from being “stolen” by others, for their use, profit, and sometimes even attribution.
There is no way to make your photos completely safe from being viewed or used without permission once they've been posted on the 'net, so if you “absolutely” want to ensure your photographs aren't used without your permission, don't post them on the Internet.
There are many ways to protect your photos posted online, but all will take some extra time and effort. To me, it's worth it.

Online galleries have features you can use to keep your photos private, and prevent others from copying or using your photos without your permission.
  • Gallery passwords: Most online galleries provide this feature. When I take personally identifiable photographs of family and friends, especially if children are in the photos, I put them in a password protected gallery.

  • Unlisted galleries: This is a terrific feature, not available at all online photo galleries. Normally, when you first enter an online gallery, you are presented with a listing of all individual galleries there. The unlisted gallery feature allows you to hide an individual gallery from view, so general gallery visitors won't have any way to know a particular (hidden) gallery exists. To enter the hidden gallery a viewer must know the address (URL) of the individual gallery. Unlisted galleries can be set to prevent search engines from finding and listing them.

  • Gallery site password: You can require anyone who wishes to view any photos on your site to have a password to enter it.

  • Unlisted site: This feature permits you to prevent search engines from finding and listing your entire gallery site, including all galleries.

  • Internal search block: This feature permits you to prevent your host's internal search engine from finding and listing your gallery site and its individual galleries.

  • Disable “right-click” or the copy command in the edit menu: In most Internet browsers there are two ways of copying a photo, via a right click menu or by using the edit/copy command. By disabling these you can prevent most viewers from copying your photographs.

  • Photo Cloaking: This is an interesting method which can be employed on some personal web galleries to protect images from copying. A transparent GIF image, the same size of the original photograph is placed on top of the original image. When viewers copy the image they only save the transparent GIF, ending up with a blank saved image.

  • Wrap photos in Java and or Flash: Embedding images within a Java or Flash framework will prevent many users from copying your photos, but it's really not that hard to extract the photos from their cache.
The Louvre at night, Paris
Using the above methods to protect your photos make sense, but it's not foolproof. Viewers can still use a screen capture program to copy your images. That's why I take the below additional precautions.
  • Limit image resolution, size and quality: This won't stop viewers from copying your images, but it will severely limit their use of the copy. You can beautifully display a photograph on a screen with a low PPI (pixels per inch) value, which will limit its ability to be printed.

  • Watermark: Placing semi-transparent text and or graphics (e.g. your business name and logo) in the middle of the image can rendering it useless for those wishing to copy it. Watermarks can be removed by some photo editing software by some users.

  • Put a copyright notice on your photos: This puts viewers on notice you care about unauthorized use, and will make it easier to take action against theft of your images. The official copyright notice has three parts: the © , and/or the word “Copyright,” or its abbreviation, the year the work was first published, and the name of the copyright owner.  My copyright notice looks like: Copyright © 2010 NSL Photography, All Rights Reserved.

  • Put a copyright notice in the exif file of your photos: Placing your copyright notice in the metadata of your digital photo files helps protect your photographs under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act. There are three methods you can use to insert your notice; use software like Photoshop, to insert your copyright notice in the appropriate field in your exif data, use your camera to insert a “comment” in the exif data, which is your copyright notice, and some cameras, like mine, can be set to automatically embed copyright notices, as each photograph is saved in the camera.
I strongly suggest you use a combination of the above methods to protect your photographs. I certainly do.


Harold on Long Island said...

Ned, seriously, is putting a copyright notice in my photos if I post them somewhere, really that important. I'm not looking to ever sell any of my photos. I just like to take them and use them as memories.

Ned S. Levi said...

Hi Harold,

In my opinion, you betcha!

You might not be selling them, but someone else might. Do you want someone taking credit for your work? I wouldn't even if I was not a pro photog. That's stealing.

Thanks for your readership.

Sara in the City by the Bay said...

Ned, on the same subject, I see on your site you don't put your copyright on your photos, but I notice on your Facebook page and elsewhere on the net where I've found your photos you do have your copyright notice on your photos.

Can you explain your rationale?

Ned S. Levi said...

Hi Sara,

San Francisco is one of my favorite cities.

You're right, I rarely put my copyright on the face of my photos in my galleries. I don't want it spoiling the appearance of the photos, and in my galleries, I'm using many other protection methods.

There are some galleries in my gallery site in which I do use watermarks. It's in my client proof area.

Here's the thing, however, every photograph I take does contain my copyright which will stand up in court and fulfills the requirements of US Digital Millennium Copyright Act. My copyright can be found in the exif file of all my photos. In fact my camera inserts my copyright when it saves each image.

I also use IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council) standard to identify every photograph I take. So along with my copyright, my photos include other information about NSL Photography including: copyright URL, and contact information including email address, along with all kinds of information about the photo itself.

In other galleries or in posts in which I use my photos, I add my copyright to the face of the photo as these locations may or may not have any safeguards for my photos, and I'm trying to make it harder to steal my images.

Thanks for your readership.

Susan in Ardmore said...

Ned, I've got a D5000 but it has no way to enter my copyright into it so it puts it in the exif file of my images.

What do you suggest?

Ned S. Levi said...

Susan, your camera has the ability to put in an image comment on every image you take, at the time the image is saved. It's explained in your manual.

Use the image comment to insert your copyright. I used to do that way with my D200.

Thanks for your readership.

George said...

Ned, if my camera has no entry method to put a copyright in the exif file, is there another way to put in my copyright?

Ned S. Levi said...

George, you can edit or enter information into the exif file with various software programs. I often enter additional information into the exif file, or edit existing information via my primary image editor, Photoshop.

Ned S. Levi said...

George, and thanks for your readership.

Robert said...

Hi Ned:

You mentioned that all of your photos are copyrighted; is that automatic or is this something that we need to apply for or register? I use Lightroom to add copyright information, is that enough for a legal copyright?

Ned S. Levi said...

Hi Robert. I use a combination of methods to put my copyright on my photographs.

1. My Nikon D700 has a copyright menu item. I type my copyright in, through the menu item. It automatically writes the copyright in the copyright line of every photo's exif data as the photo is being saved on the memory card in my D700.
2. Prior to the D700 I used a D200. I used the comment line in the exif data which the D200 could write to on every photo's exif data automatically upon taking each photo.
3. When I catalog every photo when copying them from my memory cards into the computer I use Photo Mechanic to automatically insert my copyright in the correct line item of my IPTC data. As a photo journalist and travel photographer, all my photos include essential IPTC information.
4. For extra protection, based on my attorney's suggestion, I'm also now putting my copyright displayed on every photo I'm putting in my galleries. I've been displaying my copyright on photos published outside my galleries for a very long time.
5. I register the copyright of the photos I publish or intend to publish, in groups, with US Copyright Office.

Ned S. Levi said...

Putting your copyright in your exif data via Lightroom should be enough under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. That being said, "should be" concerns me so I'm putting my copyright visibly on the photo too as per my attorney.

I register my photos with the U.S. Copyright Office within three months of the first publication of the photo, so I many not only recover “actual damages” for the infringement (pursuant to 17 U.S.C. 504 (b)), but also statutory damages. Courts usually calculate actual damages based on normal license fees and/or industry standard licensing fees. You also may recover the profits the infringer made from the infringement if they aren’t too speculative. Unfortunately, actual damages usually don’t amount to much so that attorneys will not take your infringement case on a contingency basis.

On the other hand, statutory damages can be up to $150,000 for a willful infringing use, and you can also recover attorney's fees.

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