Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I'm not a "Pro." Why should I worry about copyrighting my photos?

Copyright?I'm asked this question often when I run workshops, or anytime I'm with enthusiasts and we're talking photography.
“You're a pro. I understand why you copyright your photos, but why should I worry about it? I'm not selling my photographs or using them in my work.”

It's important to understand that every time a photographer, or even a weekend vacationer presses the shutter release on their camera to make a photograph, the image is copyrighted the moment it's made. That's right, every photo made is copyrighted, the instant it's stored on film or in a memory card.

But that's just the start.

Once you make a photograph, you have the opportunity for different levels of copyright protection and recovery; “actual” and “statutory.” I'll discuss those details in Part II and III of this series on copyrighting.

For professional photographers, using online photo protection and copyrighting measures is a “natural.” Professional photographers earn their living from selling their photographs, and clearly establishing their copyright, and protecting it, protects the “value” of their images.

While that's true, it's certainly not the only reason to protect images via copyright.

For me, the control of my photographs is just as important. The appearance of my photos and how they are used is critical, as far as I'm concerned. These are issues about which every photographer should be concerned, professional, and amateur alike, even “family snapshot photographers.”

I'll discuss a case of misuse in a moment, but first let's take a look at an example of why anyone might be interested in “effectively” copyrighting their photographs, in order to deal with their “theft.”

You feel pretty great when you show someone your vacation photos and they tell you they're marvelous? How would you feel if your photos were used as part of an email, newspaper or magazine advertisement, or home page come-on to entice people to use a business service, or buy a product, without your permission, attribution, or compensation? Maybe less great?

How would you feel if that photo was used to advertise a business of which you didn't approve?
Online photographs, unless in private galleries, and/or password protected galleries are literally open to the world to see, and your images are therefore available for the world to steal.
So, no recognition, nor compensation for your work! Some might not care, but if it was me, having taken pains to get my exposure right, be sure the color is spot on, frame and compose the photograph to advantage, and having spent my valuable time to perfect the image in my computer, during post processing, I'd be feeling at least a wee bit angry.

Don't think this doesn't happen. I assure you, it happens every day. Each day thousands and thousands of people troll Flickr and other gallery hosting sites for images. Some will offer to pay for photos, or at least give credit for using them, but many others will just steal them.

I have a friend who's a marvelous amateur wildlife photographer. She often makes stunning bird and larger animal photographs. She posts her best photos for her family and friends to see in her galleries on the Internet. Of course, along with her family and friends, the “world” can view them too!

And, apparently more than just her family and friends think her wildlife photos are terrific. A private wildlife sanctuary took a few of her photos and used them in their email newsletters and on their website. They never notified her they were using her images. They offered her no compensation, and no attribution. She wouldn't have known what was going on if a friend of hers hadn't seen her photos on the site, and asked her how much they paid to use them.

Photographer Kristina Hill of New York took an engagement photo of a same-sex couple holding hands while kissing. One of the men posted the photo on his blog. A conservative group then “stole” the image, altered it, and turned it into an anti-gay attack ad, specifically targeting a politician for her vote in support of same sex unions.
For this discussion, this isn't a story about same sex unions or marriages, nor gay rights, nor politics. This is a story about copyright violation.
Do you think that's an extreme case? How would you feel if one of your “family” images, or an image of one of your children, or of your spouse or partner were used by a business or person of questionable reputation?

I believe it's in every photographers' best interest to use online photo protection methods and copyrighting, to protect their photographs.

The information in this article is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.


Val - Toronto said...

Great article Ned. I never considered the problems of the theft of my photos, nor their misuse. I think I would be pretty made if someone used "five finger discount" to make money from one of my vacation shot.

I may not be a pro, but my photos are very good according to others, and companies should be paying for any photos they use, not stealing photos from people like me.

Herb said...

I was just informed by a friend he saw one of my photos from my vacation last year in Aruba on a travel website. It's a horseback riding shot of my wife. I had no copyright listed on the photo. I never thought this would happen to me. I've sent them a take down letter and asked for an apology. I'm not looking for cash, but if they don't act fast, I might go for it.

It's a great article Ned. Keep them coming. I look forward

Bev in Kansas City said...

Whether you are for or against same sex marriage, the misuse of that photo is outrageous. The two guys in the photo should sue and put that organization out of business by bleeding every cent they have.

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