Copyright part 2

May 17, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

I had so many things running through my head the last few days about copyright that I couldn't wait until next week to post.  So here is part 2. 

In the first part to this post, I reviewed basic copyright principles and when is an image copyrighted as well as some stipulations about co-copyright. 

Before I do, let me share a personal story.   Not long ago I was asked to assist in a pretty large photoshoot in St. Louis.  The subjects being shot were paying to be a part of it, so I was told I would be paid for the day as well as be paid for any prints that were sold.  As soon as the shoot was over, I was asked to download my card to their computer (I never give RAW images to anyone) but in this case I had a long drive home and my wife was waiting in the car so I had no choice.  Needless to say, I then saw my images up on their website with their logo (infringement), then saw marketing materials with my images used by them with my photos (infringement),   then some images were purchased by participants which I was never paid for as well as never being paid for the shoot.   I had not had a written agreement with them because I thought this was a good studio to work with. Unfortunately, I was wrong.  I normally have written agreements for everything,  but in this case it bit me. I since have discovered that this has occurred in more cases with this same group.  This is why it is so critical to understand copyright and know your rights and how to protect your work.

Things to remember about copyright:

  • Copyright is a property right.
  • Just because you buy a print does not mean you have purchased the copyright.
  • Professional photographers are the smallest of small copyright holders.
  • Under the Federal Copyright Act of 1976, photographs are protected by copyright from the moment of creation.
  • Photographers have the exclusive right to reproduce their photographs (right to control the making of copies).
  • Unless you have permission from the photographer, you can’t copy, distribute (no scanning and sending them to others), publicly display (no putting them online), or create derivative works from photographs (no editing).
  • A photographer can easily create over 20,000 separate pieces of intellectual property annually.
  • Professional photographers are dependent on their ability to control the reproduction of the photographs they create.
    • It affects their income and the livelihood of their families.
  • Even small levels of infringement—copying a photo without permission—can have a devastating impact on a photographer’s ability to make a living.
  • Copyright infringements—reproducing photos without permission—can result in civil and criminal penalties.


We are seeing more and more where models, families, or businesses are taking images and learning to DYI ( do it yourself).  Many are taking the image that has been shot for them, and they begin to edit, crop, add logo's or whatever to the image. This is definitely infringement.  In most cases, the user has very little skill at editing and in the end the final product reflects upon the photographers work.   Sometimes the photographers work is just as good or bad as the person taking the image to edit it.  That is neither here nor there, it is still copyright infringement.

So how do you protect your images?  Well first and foremost is "watermarks" watermarks with your logo, which can be intrusive to a viewer looking at your work, but it also clearly identifies that this work is yours.  There are easy ways to put your logo on an image with most software editing tools today.  The key is to place your logo so that it doesn't steal the viewers eye (unless this is your marketing technique)

Another great protection is the image Metadata.  Image metadata does 3 things that every photographer should care about and others should start understanding. First, the metadata stores information/keywording that will help with search engines and your images being found via a search on the internet.  Second, the data stored is a great way to reference the technical details of how an image  was shot and be a tool or study for later.  Lastly, the metadata makes it easier to prove authorship/copyright via the information that has been stored.  Even with GPS information that is now being stored on the image, it is going to be much easier to prove since the location has been stored on the image as well.

Some great resources: (great information on the secrets of why photo competitions are often held)

Be looking for the next blog post where I will move from the copyright to image usage and copyrights that might be in an image and what the difference is between trademark and copyright. I also will open up the concept of moral and ethical usage of an image.

(image: courtesy of istockphoto/Stuart Burford)


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