Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Consult a qualified attorney for advice related to your particular circumstances.
Social media, copiers, scanners, and printers… oh MY! These days it’s all too easy for your clients to use technology to reproduce or distribute your work. It may feel like you’re fighting a losing battle, but you’re not alone
As the world’s largest nonprofit association for professional photographers, Professional Photographers of America (PPA) stands staunchly in your corner with a full-time presence on Capitol Hill fighting for stronger copyright laws and offers its members a toolbox of resources to help photographers protect their copyrights.
According to a recent industry survey conducted by PPA, almost 70 percent of the nearly 2,000 respondents said they have had their work used without their permission.
Of that group, more than half estimate unauthorized uses of their images totaling five or more in the past five years. “These victims of infringement are mom and pop businesses,” says PPA CEO David Trust. “The income they lose from just one infringement can determine whether or not a hard-working photographer gets to take his or her first family vacation in five years, sign his or her child up for little league or piano lessons, or pay the mortgage. These may not be huge amounts of money to some, but they make a big difference to a small business owner.”
This is not an isolated thing. The most common photographic copyright infringements result in a loss of $1,000 to $3,000 for each photographer. It doesn’t take a law degree to know that it is not realistic to take someone to Federal Court to fight over such a modest amount of money.
Very few professional photographers can afford to invest the time and money to pursue a federal claim even when damages are higher. And yet $1,000 makes a big difference to a small business, and can even be enough to determine whether or not a photographer can keep his or her doors open.
This is one reason PPA continues to fight for a small claims process that would give photographers and others a way to recoup damages without, literally, making a federal case out of it.
The best thing you can do to guard your work and your rights is to take preventative measures.
10 Tips for Protecting your Photography Copyright
1. Get educated
Copyright law is complex, and there are many misconceptions. Be sure you’re separating fact from fiction. Tune in to a webinar, attend a class, and read up on the issue at the PPA.com Copyright FAQ. Your clients expect you to be an expert.
2. Educate your clients
Make sure your clients understand what they can and cannot do with the prints and files they’ve purchased from you. Emphasize why copyright is so important to your business and your livelihood. Taking this one step can prevent numerous infringements.
3. Have a sound licensing agreement for each job
Licensing agreements can be part of a larger contract or can stand alone. A licensing agreement (also known as a copyright license or usage agreement) is where you and your clients agree in writing what usage rights the client will have upon payment.
4. Include a copyright notice in every contract
In most cases, you own the copyright of your work at the moment of creation. However, not everyone understands this. Protect yourself further by including a statement regarding your copyright in every contract. Don’t be shy: Go one step further to point out the clause and discuss it during the client consultation.
Learn more in our Photography Business Legal Guide.
5. Mark your work for online display
Use a watermark of your business logo or written copyright notice (e.g., ©2016 Studio Name. All Rights Reserved) on any image posted online.
6. Don’t distribute high-res files unless you’ve licenses printing rights
If you’re sending a file to a client for social media, provide one that is appropriate for that use. If you share files that are large enough and high quality enough for printing, you’re risking digital infringements as well as print and distribution infringements.
7. Track digital files with metadata
Embedded metadata can help you identify copyright infringements as well as establish ownership if an infringement occurs. Any professional image editing tool can help do that very easily.
8. Don’t freely give away usage rights
You own your copyright for a reason. Don’t just give it away. When creating a licensing agreement with a client, be sure to include adequate compensation in exchange for any usage rights of your work and derived pieces.
9. Register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office
Although you own the copyright for your work from the moment of its creation, you don’t have access to full copyright enforcement mechanisms under the current law unless you federally register your work. Register your work online at Copyright.gov.
10. Track copyright reform
The House Judiciary Committee is currently reviewing U.S. Copyright law. Potential changes to the law could directly affect visual artists, and in a good way. PPA is working on that! Stay current and make sure your voice is heard. Get up-to-date copyright-related news at PPA.com’s Copyright News Page.
Bonus! Join PPA for free access to copyright resources
On the PPA website, there’s plenty of information to get you up to speed on copyright. Even better, you can download sample licensing agreements as well as product inserts to help educate your clients on copyright.
Changes are coming. Through the lobbying efforts of groups led by PPA, there is new ground being broken on copyright law in the United States. Bills are being drafted that attempt to address the three changes PPA would like to see in copyright law:
Creation of a small claims option for copyright enforcement
Because most infringements for real-world, mom and pop creators are valued at a few thousand dollars or less, seeking remedies in Federal Court is not an option. Consequently, many creators have copyright protection but no viable option for enforcing those rights.
A small claims option would correct this decade-long inequity in the law and would extend protection under the law to hundreds of thousands of small-business creators. Now that the congressional copyright review has shed light on this issue, the time has come to correct this injustice.
Modifications to the copyright registration process to create a more functional system
The copyright registration process is antiquated and one-size-fits-all. It is expected to work for all the very diverse copyright industries.
But what works for a motion picture creator who may only register one, multi-million dollar creation per year, does not work for a professional photographer who may need to register millions of creations of relatively low individual values each year. The current process is extremely burdensome to high-volume visual artists.
All creators are currently required to sort works according to publication status and date and to deposit each and every image they register. The requirement to sort creative works according to publication status and date (currently included in the statute) should be eliminated for visual artists, and the deposit requirement should be modified to simplify the process for the highest-volume creators.
Modernization of the United States Copyright Office
The U.S. Copyright Office is positioned within the Library of Congress (LOC). Under the current structure, authority, accountability and infrastructure are lacking. While it is essential for the Copyright Office to work in cooperation with the LOC to create a representative sample, the Office should be moved out from under the LOC. Three key issues must be addressed in order to effectively “modernize” the Office:
- Authority: The Register of the U.S. Copyright Office must have the authority to direct the Office.
- Accountability: The Register of the U.S. Copyright Office must be directly accountable to Congress.
- Administrative Capacity: The U.S. Copyright Office is in desperate need of its own budgets and infrastructure – specifically IT systems – that are built to meet the needs of the Office rather than being built around the processes of the Library of Congress
Photographers can be assured they have PPA standing beside them, advocating for their rights and ready to assist in copyright issues for small business owners. From up-and-coming artists like Ross Oscar Knight to household names like Anne Geddes, PPA has helped numerous members protect themselves and their artistic property.
PPA can also help YOU Be More Informed about copyright and protect your work. PPA expects legislation to be introduced this year or next. When the time is right, PPA will call on all photographers to help in the fight for creator’s rights. PPA is always helping professional photographers Be More Protected.
You can stay up-to-date on all the upcoming legislative news on copyright law by heading to the copyright news page at PPA.com.
The most vulnerable and unprotected class of artists under U.S. copyright laws are high-volume, small-business photographers.
Copyright resources are FREE to PPA members, so don’t be left out! Join PPA to Be More Protected.
Sources: American Bar Association, Section of Intellectual Property Law – Comments to U.S. Copyright Office, 2015 Professional Photographers of America Surveys.