New Photography Copyright Laws – Where Do You Stand?

February 27th, 2012 by Adrian Klein

By Adrian Klein

Unless you have been sitting under the drape of a large format camera the last decade you have seen the topic of copyright and piracy come and go in the lime light. Most recently drafted United States bills of SOPA and PIPA took center stage in January 2012.

I have seen emails and articles with strong stances on both sides. Since photographs were first protected under copyright laws starting in 1865 there have been multiple battles waged in this area, this is not the first. What got me interested in writing this post about this topic is to put out my opinions and see if others really think we need more governance to help protect photographers.

After PIPA and SOPA were drafted and about to be debated in our branches of government numerous online companies from Google to Mozzila (Firefox) put the word out in late January that these were incorrect solutions to the problem that could hurt the Internet as we know it including a black out day to gain attention to the issue. This was in sharp contrast to what the other side was saying from RIAA and various other organizations and businesses. I even received the email from PPA that I found somewhat troubling to read. A photography organization that I was a member with for years talked about how companies like Google do not have our best interests in mind and that PPA supports PIPA and SOPA. That might be true in some regards yet I don’t feel these bills were the answer either.

Copyright infringement is definitely more prevalent today in our digital age. I cannot log onto a social networking site anymore without seeing a post about a photographer that had some image used without their permission. I fully support protecting photographer’s copyright if that was not obvious since I am a photographer. And technically your image is copyrighted the moment it’s created with numerous steps you can take today to help show you own the copyright on an image. I don’t want my work used without consent like the vast majority out there, and I take steps to help minimize this from the beginning yet I know I cannot eliminate it if I want to display my work online.

Additionally registering your images with the library of congress can make an infringing damage award higher and easier to prove if it was taken through the legal system, yet I am aware this is something most of us don’t have the bandwidth or finances to do unless the infringement is large enough. Smaller infringements might be able to be resolved by just sending an email or letter. I also realize this only helps post infringement and does not help to reduce infringements. However with the many ways to copy an image from the Internet today I don’t see this ever going completely away. If a person wants to use your online photograph without your permission whether for personal use or commercial, they can.

As long as we continue the trend to make images easy to buy (as seen today with numerous ways to buy images online from print to digital files) I feel this will only help reduce issues and frustration around the subject. Maybe I am naively hopeful.

Suggestions to help protect your images:

  1. Do not post high resolution images online. Approximately 700 pixels at 72 dpi is a good size. I still see large images posted online often.
  2. Add a watermark to your images in Photoshop. They do not need to take away from the photo, can be added to be noticeable but not intrusive.
  3. Add metadata to your images with a copyright statement and your contact info. This helps show who owns the image if there is any question.
  4. Do not supply images without a contract license. Even if granting zero cost licenses for specific cases you should still have it documented.
  5. Register your images with Library of Congress:
  6. Educate your clients. When I had my portrait & wedding business I supplied a document that talked about everything the client could or could not do with purchased digital negatives.
  7. And lastly if you have images that you want to guarantee are never used without your consent under any circumstance, don’t post them online.

I think the answer is to continue to educate the public and clients. Additional laws may help only slightly if at all and will be a delicate balance of too much power vs too little like any new law. The point of this post is to get you thinking, not solve it. What are your thoughts? Are current laws enough or do we need a tighter government clamp on the Internet? Feel free to share your views here.

Below are examples of sizes and watermarking that you might want to evaluate that I have seen in use. This will be a personal preference based on how much you want to bring the viewer in and fully enjoy the online visual experience, or not.

An example of my web presentation for most sites. 665 x 456 pixels including border with a light opacity watermark in one of the corners.

Although this will certainly be effective in deterring unsolicited use of an image. It will also have less visitors viewing your work with less inquiries. Yet I have seen instances similar to this.

Notice this image is very small if you click on it, 365 x 250 pixels at full size. While this again may deter people it also does not allow those you want to potentially purchase your work to truly get a feeling for the imagery.

  • Adrian,
    I think you are naively hopeful. There are a lot of people who are aware of copyright infringement and do it anyway. For those of us who photograph well known people, there are always people lifitng your images for profit. I have a guy right now selling Tshirts on Face Book with my image on it, as his original art. I have sent him notices in the past and he dares me to sue him. This image is represented by Getty so they are on it. It is epidemic. Putting a watermark on images is not an option for photographers with commercial sites. Art directors etc, don’t want to see that. We need strong laws in place to protect our images which are our income.

    • Thank you Landry for taking the time to comment. I agree it is a big issue and maybe I am a little too optimistic. Time will tell yet I do believe we are in store for revamping our laws in the coming years to address this in some way.

      Someone trying to sell one of your images on artwork as his own seems like the worst offense possible. I don’t get it when I hear these kind of stories. I hope this one comes to a successful resolution for you.

  • Bruce Couch

    Flickr’s APIs allow third parties to build flickr images into their apps. Flickr has specific requirements for use of images within Flickr based on the users requirements. So imagine my surprise when a friend said, hey I love your desktop image in Best Wallpapers for Android (a commercial app). the app has been downloaded between 1M and 5M times. Like you, I sell my images, mainly as stock for corp work (I own a graphic design company). Typically we sell the images for between $200-400. My attorney is dealing with the company (AppBrain) now.

    Flickr, when we pointed out the violation of their Terms of Service by AppBrain, simply said “we don’t currently see a violation”. this was after we pointed out specific violations of numerous ToS terms with evidence of each violation. Flickr was useless.

    If you have images on Flickr you may want to check this app to see if your images are on it…

    That said, I was opposed to PIPA and SOPA. Like you, I understand this problem well and like you, didn’t think that was the answer.

    • Thank you Bruce for that link and for taking the time to leave your comment. I will surely have to take a peek and see if it has any of my work out there.

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