Photographers: Copyright and Protection
November 10, 2012
One of the more misunderstood aspects of photography is copyright and fair usage rights. These rights and laws are misunderstood by ALL parties involved, from the client to photographer to general public. While it’s not my intent or purpose to get completely into it, I will give a quick overview of the basics a photographer needs to protect him or herself.
It is assumed and applied that as soon as a photo is taken, it is automatically copy-written to the photographer who took it. There are exceptions to this rule (Photos taken on Federally protected grounds are property of the Government) but for the most part this is true. Just because you have copyright, doesn’t mean you are protected. To fully protect yourself against unauthorized usage, going the final step of REGISTERING your work with the U.S. Copyright Office is the final step!
Let’s say you take a photo and it’s an awesome photo (Yes, I know, every photo you take is awesome!), and someone sees this photo and agree it’s awesome. This person then takes the photo and blows it up a tiny bit bigger and uses it as a flyer to announce their wonderful brothel or dance club in Vegas. Now this person is NOT a client of yours, nor do they have permission to use the photo. What is your legal recourse? If you don’t have the image registered with the copyright office, sadly, there isn’t much you can do until you get it registered. We will come back to this situation in a second.
Many clients feel the photos we take of them are THEIR photos! Many times, my clients will say “They are MY photos! They are photos of me and with out me, you wouldn’t have a photo” These are usually the clients who have spoken to someone who is misinformed about ownership and copyright and that person tells them they are supposed to get all the images in RAW format. This is the point when we must explain to them; “Yes, they are photos of you, but I own the copyright of the photo being I took the photo. I have explicit likeness rights of you in these photos to use them” This all assuming you had the client sign PROPER paperwork and releases. I am often asked if people can use my model release for their shoots. No, you can’t. Why not? My release was drafted by my lawyer and is specific to my usage and rights. That and I paid good money for her to draft it, I’m not going to give away my money! It is important to have clients sign a model release, usage agreement or any other release to allow you to use the images for whatever you agreed upon. Of course when the client is paying they have a lot more say, but again, it’s all in your agreement wording. My agreement wording has special spots that state the client gives me commercial usage to use the images to further promote my business. If the client disagrees-usually it’s a Mom with small child who doesn’t want child’s image on the internet, I will barter something extra to get Mom to open up more. Usually, a gift print or nice discount on overall order. The job is to get them to allow usage of the photos to promote yourself and as long as it’s done in a fair way, that usually isn’t a problem. Models want the promotion, corporate clients want the promotion, everyone is happy.
Registering your photos now days is SUPER simple, visit the US Copyright Office and upload tons of photos. In a few weeks, you will be sent via email and paper notice, the official copyright number notification and you’ll be set. I personally send notices off once every three months. This usually amounts to about 4k photos all thumbnail re-sized. The photos I post right away aren’t protected right away, but one out of 200 in the session isn’t something I worry too much about. If I see the image being used with out my permission I register it right away then contact my Lawyer.
The photographer that was involved in the Vegas situation had in fact, registered the image with the US Copyright Office. By the time the photographer was notified that his image was being used illegally, thousands were handed out. In fact, the photographer found out because the client SAW the flyer and called to ask if the photographer allowed the image to be used. Upon hearing of this infringement, the photographer contacted his lawyer and the next day the establishment was contacted. It was pointed out that unlicensed usage of the photo was used to gain profit for the business and is a direct copyright violation. The company ceased all usage of the fliers and settled with 5 digit monetary settlement offer. The photographer AND his lawyer were both satisfied with the outcome and he was glad he listened to his lawyer who preached the importance of filing copyright.