Protecting your Copyright
“Copyright is the exclusive legal right, given to an originator or an assignee to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same.” Also, “These are your rights and your rights alone. Unless you willingly give them up (EX: A Creative Commons License), no one can violate them legally. This means that, unless you say otherwise, no one can perform a piece written by you or make copies of it, even with attribution, unless you give the OK.” (Definitions are from a web search and www.plagiarismtoday.com.)
When I first began to write this blog it was to be about how much I love photography. That part has not changed, however what changed is the whole profession of photography. Many years a photographer, I made the transition (reluctantly) from film to digital media. This new digital world has cost me clients. It seems that everyone with a cell phone thinks they are a photographer. Thankfully, there are still clients, who value my talents and skill, for that I am very thankful. Along with the loss of clients, the digital media has amplified the exiting issue of plagiarizing.
With the ease of acquiring media via the Internet, people believe they can just copy and paste and use other people’s work as their own. It is piracy, and with that everyone needs to know that it hurts the people who are attempting to feed their families, pay their mortgages and stay in business. As you have seen on countless movie announcements: Piracy is not a victimless crime.
A situation came up just the other day when I opened up a small local magazine and noticed that three of my images were used in an article and the photo credit was given to a friend. I had given a disk with some images to this person with the understanding that these would only be for personal enjoyment. This hurt, and upset me. What hurt the most was that no one will know I took the photographs in the printed edition, and as a professional, my reputation for images is one I cherish and work hard to maintain.
My first phone conversation was with the editor of the magazine. Explaining that the images were credited to the incorrect person, she assured me that she was accepting the word of the person who gave them to her. Trust played a part in this on her part, but morally, the person who gave these to her should have contacted me for my permission. My second communication was with the person who gave my photographs away without my permission. Thankfully, they have apologized and we have made amends. I gave them a chance to make it right, and they did. After I received an apology from the person who gave my photographs away, it occurred to me that there is little awareness of copyright laws for the masses, which prompted this post.
As a free-lance photographer, I register every image I take with the copyright bureau. It is easy to do and relatively inexpensive. I know that ASMP, The American Society of Media Photographers, www.ASMP.org is working diligently to modify copyright to better be served in the digital age, and with that I am thankful, but the wheels of bureaucracy move slowly. Until the policy changes, I will continue to register every image the old fashioned way, but using the link here at www.copyright.gov. My hope is that ASMP will be successful in securing an easier way for us photographers to copyright our work so that we may continue to benefit from the fruits of our labor.
Once your template is set up, it’s a matter of filling in the blanks. Depending on how much work you have it is important register your images every two to three months. It will protect you and your heirs from unauthorized usage and if an image is used without your permission, you are able to collect legal fees.
In my research I found the web page below was a wealth of information, and I’m sure there are more. Remember that knowledge is power. Most importantly, protect your images as you would protect any piece of property.
In this digital age it is easy to contact and find the copyright holder of an image. A friend and fellow colleague Daymon J. Hartley took the image in this post. Before I even put my fingers to the keyboard to write this blog, I asked permission, and then asked how he wanted them to be copyrighted. Within 5 minutes of sending a Facebook message I received a response. His request is honored. This photograph is © damonjhartely.com. The photograph was taken early on in my career, as I was guest speaking at the College For Creative Studies, in Detroit, where I was also a student. By the time this photograph was taken I had already worked for 5 local newspapers, I was the second woman photojournalist at the Detroit News, the third woman at the Detroit Free Press, (both summer internships) and I was currently working for United Press International taking photographs of Detroit's Professional sporting teams to put myself through school.
What every photographer must do is educate not only their clients, but also their friends on the value of their work, and to not give it away, sell it or destroy it. Most people do not understand how photographers make their living, and it is our responsibility to inform everyone we can. If we don’t take the initiative then who will?
Detroit People & Commercial Photographer