Everything you need to know (unofficially!)
Until recently I knew very little about the rules of copyright within the world of photography. I decided to do some serious research so that I could share my new found knowledge with anyone else in the world who would like to brush up on their copyright knowledge. I have ready through many websites in order to write up this research so I believe it should all be correct! I hope this helps other like minded individuals.
My research shows that copyright originates at the moment a piece of work is created. If a photograph is taken with a digital camera then the copyright originates at the time the image is saved on a computer or hard drive. A copyright symbol and a watermark does not mean that your work is officially protected from infringement, but it is always a good idea to use them because it acts as a deterrent for would-be infringers.
On March 1, 1989, the law was changed to further protect artists from copyright infringement. A copyright notation is no longer an absolute necessity of the Copyright Act. However, with the digital world growing by the day, it is now incredibly easy to steal artists work, and someone with less than good morals can easily infringe the copyright law if they want to.
The truth of the matter is that the only solid way to protect your work is by registering each individual piece of work for copyright. The purpose of this is to ensure that you have proper, independently verifiable, evidence of your work. This ensures that if anyone steals your photos you have solid evidence to prove your claim.
So few people know the full rules of copyright within the realm of photography. Therefore copyright infringement happens frequently and sometimes the people who are in the wrong, have no idea! I certainly found myself in this situation a few years ago and had no idea I was in the wrong in any way. So many people don’t know what they can and can’t do with other people’s copyrighted work for their own commercial use. My research shows that you must get verbal or written consent from the owner of the copyright, and will most likely have to buy the rights to use the image.
There are images online called stock photos. These are put online to be used for anything and everything! Most stock images allow you to use the image for commercial use, however you normally have to pay for stock photos in order to have the rights to use them. You don’t have to pay for all stock images, but these ones will often come with various rules such as not using for profit and crediting the owner of the stock.
There are not really any grey areas within photography copyright. As previously mentioned, the copyright of an image always belongs to the photographer and therefore, other people can’t use them without permission. The only exception to the rule is if the photographer is working for a company who has asked the photographer to sign away any rights to copyright. This means that the copyright of the images taken by the photographer will belong to the company and not the photographer.
As a photographer and a digital editor myself, I need to know whether it is acceptable to digitally manipulate copyrighted content so it is not wholly recognisable. Research has taught me that no, you can’t do anything with copyrighted images without expressed permission from the copyright holder.
There are possible penalties if challenged by the original owner of the content. The worst situation is that you could get sued by the owner. Copyright law is mostly civil law, which means that you would usually get sued, but not be charged with a crime. “Innocent until proven guilty” is a principle of criminal law, but in copyright suits, these don’t apply in the same way. The rules vary, depending on the type of infringement, but it’s mostly which side and set of evidence the judge or jury believes more.
There are various things that I can do to effectively protect my own work from copyright infringement. When posting my images online, I can make sure I only post low resolution pictures so that anyone who copies it, can’t do a huge amount with it as it is too small and will pixilate when enlarged.
I can also choose to digitally watermark my images before posting them online. This involves putting semi transparent text over the image which contains my details as the photographer. I may also choose to write that my image is copyrighted next to it using the ‘C’ symbol which stands for copyright.
Another way of copyrighting my images is to use EXIF data to digitally embed data into my files. When doing this I can edit fields that follow the copyright guidelines. I can edit the image title and my contact details. If I have used EXIF data and my image is being used without permission I can get in contact with the individual or organisation in question to inform them of this. If I want to be compensated for the use I can check the ‘National Union of Journalists’ website to determine the standard industry rate for the type of use in question.
The final way I can go about copyrighting my image is the most official and therefore the best way to do it. I can register copyright of my photos online and pay a fee to do this. Doing this will ensure that I have proper, independently verified evidence of my work. This ensures that if someone steals my photos, I have solid evidence to prove my claim.
Lastly, I would like to talk about the ‘Creative Commons’ scheme as I feel this would be a useful bit of information for many people to know. Creative Commons licenses are for people who don't wish to profit from their works and share their works in the manner they prefer. There are four different types of ‘Creative Commons’ licences’. The first one is called ‘Attribution’. This means that the owner of the licence allows others to distribute, display and perform your work. It also allows people to base their work on the original. This is called derivative work. An example of this is a painting based on a photograph or a screenplay passed on a book. Under the ‘Attribution’ licence, all of this can be done as long as the original artist is credited they way they request it.
The next Creative commons licence is called ‘Share Alike’ which means that you allow others to distribute derivative works under a licence, which is identical to the licence of your work. The third ‘Creative Commons’ licence is called, “Non Commercial”. It is exactly the same as the “Attribution” licence, except that people are not allowed to make any profit from their creations. The final ‘Creative Commons’ licence is called, “No Derivative Works”. This means that you allow others to copy, distribute and perform your work exactly how you have created it, but you are not allowing anyone to creative derivative works based upon it.
Creative Commons is a wonderful way of sharing your work and enriching the creative community online and in the real world. However I feel that for myself, I would prefer to fully copyright my work and keep my images solely for viewing and appreciating, unless I agree otherwise.