What do you know about Copyright?

Posted Wednesday, 13 October 2010 by Ellen Boughn in Ellen Boughn, Photography
Ellen Boughn explains the ins and outs (and the importance) of copyright as it relates to photographers.
You need to be a copyright GEEK!<br /> © pshek/Crestock
You need to be a copyright GEEK!
© pshek/Crestock
I've found high school students that know more <br /> about copyright than some photographers!<br />  © leloft1911/Crestock
I've found high school students that know more
about copyright than some photographers!
© leloft1911/Crestock
Respect the copyrights of others<br /> © jbouzou/Crestock
Respect the copyrights of others
© jbouzou/Crestock

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 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; however, 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.

Start with this ASMP podcast on how to register your photos. And then get going doing just that!

U.S. Copyright Office website links: ASMP, the American Society of Media Photographers, is a U.S. photographer's organization has many resources available to members AND non-members: The Picture Archive of America (PACA) has lots of resources: Understanding Creative Commons

For copyright laws in all 150 member countries, check out Unesco.

(Answers to questions posed in the first paragraph above are 'no' except for the last one. See resources above to find out how to register copyright online.)

Ellen Boughn

Ellen has over thirty years of experience in the stock business gained at such organizations as Dreamstime, UpperCut Images, Workbookstock, Corbis, Getty (Stone), The Image Bank (Artville) and the creative agency, After-Image, she started in Los Angeles at the beginning of her career. Having been directly involved in the creation of four major stock photography collections, Ellen offers her decades of experience to assist photographers seeking success in stock photography.

Twitter @ellenboughn Facebook ellenboughn www.ellenboughn.com/blog

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Comment on creative commons
By Matt Ward on Wednesday, 13 October 2010 1:55 PM
I don't understand your statement " Remember once you designate a photo with a Creative Commons Copyright you have lost control of getting paid for its use". If you use a non-commercial CC, then why can't you still get paid for that image on a micro stock site?
Comment on creative commons
By photomavin on Wednesday, 13 October 2010 5:06 PM
Yes, Matt, you are partially correct. You haven't lost control but my statement is also partially correct. The confusion here is in the wording of the CC license dealing with non-commercial use.
Neither CC nor the world can agree on what 'non-commercial' means. Here's a link to the CCwiki that wanders around the definition: http://wiki.creativecommons.org/Defining_Noncommercial
Until they figure it out, I tend to err on the side of caution. -Ellen aka photomavin.
Further info on Creative Commons
By bobbigmac on Wednesday, 20 October 2010 11:07 AM
I have a pretty thorough post detailing creative commons rights and responsibilities, as well as an analysis of 'Gratis' (Free asin Beer) vs 'Libre' (Free asin Speech), which is a very important distinction to make when talking about the rights which are granted to a user by licensing a work under Creative Commons:

Beer and free speech
By photomavin on Wednesday, 20 October 2010 2:52 PM
As always a long and informative post bobbigmac that you referenced above. Thx -Ellen (aka) photomavin
When do the same props create copyright violation?
By photomavin on Wednesday, 20 October 2010 3:03 PM
Steve, Crestock's fearless leader, has pointed out how a photographer could come to the attention of the copyright police by using different models and wardrobe but the same props as in another's photo. If the props are a major element of a photo and the final image is obviously a copy with only the models and wardrobe changed...you would have a copycat violating a copyright! Thus the answer to the first question that I posed above is "maybe"-Ellen

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