Copyright-Who Knows What?

October 20th, 2010 by

What do you know about copyright? Is it a violation of your copyright if someone takes a very similar photo with the same props but with different models, location and wardrobe? What about a photo that you take at a popular tourist destination, standing in the same place at the same time five minutes after another person takes a photo of the same scene? Do you need to physically register a copyright for one to be valid? Can you do it online? (Answers at the end of the post, if you aren’t already a copyright geek)

Information about copyright has become so vital in our visual world that even young students are hearing about it.   Last spring I taught for a day to the combined classes of the digital and film departments at our local high school.The students’ knowledge was impressive. “Who is your photographic hero?”, I asked. Quickly hands shot up: “Cartier-Bresson”, “Avedon”, “Doisneau”. Wow. They surprised me again when I asked, “How many of you believe that any image you find on the Internet is free to use in anyway?” In a typical group only two hands shot up out of a room full of students. These kids were copyright geeks. Wow, again.

Unfortunately many people are either copyright ignorant or consciously choose to play dumb.  Even photographers and illustrators often don’t pay attention until they have a problem with stolen images.

What is this thing called copyright anyway? The law respects the work of creative people and wants to ensure that they have full financial and creative credit for the work that they do.

Copyright is a complex issue. Toss creative commons into the mix and you have a wicked brew of information that can paralyze both photographers and users of stock photos. Fortunately there are many resources available to help you understand the regulations.

Key Issues. Under the current U.S. Copyright Law, all photos and illustrations are copyrighted the moment they are created. But unless you register your images, you lose much of the benefit of the initial copyright. This is just one of the many quirks that you need to know to be informed about how to protect your work.

What’s the story if you aren’t a U.S. citizen and posting to a non U.S. site like Crestock? The U.S. has reciprocal agreements with most other countries but not all. See “International” below in the links to the U.S. Copyright Office.

What if someone violates your copyright? Sometimes violations are innocent. A business owner reuses a photo that their designer bought on their behalf but uses it in a fashion that wasn’t in the original deal. In these cases, I suggest you first contact the business owner before you do anything else. In the case of microstock, it’s difficult to know if a license is valid but microstock poses a bigger problem: people have been known to download images from the web and then post them to a microstock site as their own. First step in that case is to immediately contact the office of the microstock company and demand that the images be taken down and the violator banned from the site.

What’s this thing called ‘Creative Commons Copyright’? There is a great deal of confusion regarding an alternate form of the copyright called “Creative Commons”. It was developed outside of the official and legal statutes governing intellectual property. It is primarily used for images that are posted to Flickr or other ‘free’ sites. There are several different classes of CC (as it is known), including the right to use an image for free as long as the creator is credited. (But better you post your images where they are more likely to earn money!) Remember once you designate a photo with a Creative Commons Copyright you have lost control of getting paid for its use under some circumstances, I support CC for one reason:  It says, “I own this and you can’t steal it unless you follow my rules even though I don’t want to be paid but to freely share.” It is my hope that Creative Commons will call attention to the fact that ALL creators of ALL images have the right to control where and when they are used. Their recent decision to create a symbol for images that are in the public domain further advances the possibility that someday all images will carry some notice of their origin and copyright.

I recommend that you start here: the ASMP podcast on how to register your photos. And then get going doing just that!

U.S. Copyright Office website links:

General FAQ

International work

Online registration

ASMP-This U.S. photographer’s organization has many resources available to members AND non- members.

Podcast giving step by step instructions on registering copyright

Registration ©ounts kickoff. Great material

The Picture Archive of America (PACA) has lots of resources

PACA Attorney Nancy Wolff’s Copyright Presentation

Copyright Commandments

Understanding Creative Commons

General Information on Creative Commons

Symbols and what they mean

(Answers to questions posed in the first paragraph above are ‘maybe’,  ‘no’ , ‘no’ and ‘yes’. See resources above to find out how to register copyright online.)

This post originally appeared on Crestock.