Editorial: Photography and Copyrights

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It seems that the current generation has a grossly skewed idea of what a copyright is. Just look up a music video on YouTube and you’ve got a good chance of seeing a user say something along the lines of “I am not claiming copyright of this video. All copyrights belong to the original author.” What that says to me is that many people think a copyright is merely a claim to authorship, and a work may be copied as long as they say they’re not the author and/or say who the real author is. The YouTube user said these things in an attempt to avoid getting his video removed for copyright infringement.

A copyright is exactly what it says it is. It’s the right to copy a work. Along with this right, the copyright holder also gets the right to be credited for the work, decide who may use, display, or perform the work, and decide who may be able to profit from it. That part of the law is why it is a violation to publicly play a movie even though you bought the DVD legally. Citing the source of the work might guard against accusations of plagiarism, but does not make someone immune from copyright violation.
Our YouTube user had copied a music video (uploading it creates a copy) and then stated that he does not own the copyright…see the problem? He did something, and then stated that what he did was illegal. And then he’ll get confused and upset when his video eventually does get removed.
So why am I writing any of this?
As professional photographers, we on Life Blasters are faced with copyright issues frequently. Just last week, a media group used a photo of Joe’s as their Facebook cover photo, complete with their own watermark. Joe heard about it and then sent them a nice message asking for payment for the photo.
Their response? “Watermarks are a big thing, as you can tell. Unfortunately the cover photo we are using, your photo, was not watermarked, nor has it ever been. The photo is not being used to ‘promote’ us. Therefore, it would have been nice if you’d have come at this in a different manner. I have no intentions of stealing your fire, nor paying you $xxx for a public photo. Watermarked or not, once you release it onto the internet, its free game. If it bothers you, i will remove it, to keep you happy, but please, don’t come at us, acting as if we are trying to say it is ‘our’ photo. Thanks.”
Whoa whoa whoa! It’s free game just because it’s on the Internet? It might be publicly viewable and easily downloadable, but free game it is not. Maybe the group has a misunderstanding of what the public domain is and how works get into it. Unless the photo was explicitly released into the public domain, Joe still holds the copyright until he dies or transfers it to someone else. Even after Joe dies, it’ll be another 70 years before any of his photos are in the public domain. I talked to Joe this morning and he’s fine. He still has his copyrights.
But what if Joe never applied for copyrights? That doesn’t matter; copyrights are automatic. It might be helpful if he registered his photos with the Library of Congress so he’d be able to seek damages if there was a gross enough infringement, but it’s not necessary. He owns the copyright, plain and simple.

That was just the latest issue we’ve had. In the last few years I’ve had photos of drift cars end up on manufacturer websites and in online magazines and photos of drivers end up on hero cards. Some thieves have left my name on them, and others have either cropped or doctored the photos to remove my name. This kind of thing happens to photographers everywhere, and more often the more popular they are.
Here’s a tip to graphic designers: If a driver sends you photos, ask them if they have the rights to the photos before you put them in your design. Oftentimes the driver just found that photo on a website, saved it, and then sent it to you without a second thought.
A blog in Lithuania used our photos from Formula D Long Beach a few weeks ago in its own recap of the event. I translated the story with Google and it looks like they even used some of my phrasing in the text! You know what they did next? They linked it back to LifeBlasters.com, and that’s how we even found out about it in the first place! When confronted, places will usually say something like “We thought you’d like the exposure!” If you steal a TV from Best Buy, telling everyone where you got it from doesn’t make it okay!
Justin had some of his videos cut apart and made into a new video last year. Seriously, do people think we won’t notice things like that?
Now and then our photos will pop up on people’s personal pages, especially amateur drivers, and that’s usually okay. They are mainly just collecting photos of themselves for their own satisfaction. They’re not promoting a business or profiting in any way, and they are more than happy to leave our names on the photos and put up a link to the site. Hey, that’s free advertising for us! But once they start using them for commercial purposes, e.g. in a sponsorship proposal, that is an infringement of copyright.

Usually the bigger entities will ask if they can use a photo, and this is always preferred! As we support ourselves with our photography, we rarely allow free usage. If an entity decides against purchasing a photo, that’s perfectly fine! At least we are all being civilized, and this is how it should always be.
Now if someone contacted us and decided against paying for a photo, but used the photo anyway, that’d be a completely different story…
I hope this was educational and everyone has a better understanding of what copyrights are, who owns them, what they protect, and what you legally can and can’t do with someone else’s work!

24 thoughts on “Editorial: Photography and Copyrights

  1. Amen brother. I’m new to photographing drifting but just in the past two weeks I’ve had to address numerous intellectual property infringements. Like you said, it’s not abnormal behavior anymore.

  2. I know very well what’s to get the copyrights violated Like this case(please read the thread until the end) in 9k vs CRfilms wich 9k never admit it to be wrong or did something to compensate…


    and also in last December this pic(this is the original one); http://www.drifted.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/IMG_17941.jpg taken by Drifted reporter Jordan Butters in the KD event got the his water mark deleted and shared…

    As you guys said in the report, truly most of the drivers only want their pics to it’s self enjoyment(also a memory of the great moments in track) and they give credits for them and also have pride on their pics to be online after the event…

    you guys earned my like as I read this article (also through jordan =P)

  3. For all photographers here is a great tool to use to do a reverse image look up to see where your images are being used. Like you all, I was also an automotive photographer for a while and covered Formula D and other major events as well as grassroots. In the auto field due to everyone wanting recognition in these huge blogs, they are allowing their work to be publicized for free. Because of this it diluted the market for any paid work. We as automotive photographers have all been victims of copyright issues and if you haven’t, you will be. At this time I only dapple around for fun with automotive work. I mostly shoot weddings and portrait work now because photography has become my career and I was always told “if you love what you do for a living you will never work a day in your life.” so anyway enough of my rant, here is the website http://www.tineye.com/ what I typically do is look at my images that have crazy amounts of views and I search it to check where else its posted.

  4. Because I think it hits home for a lot of us photographers, videographers, and music artists. It’s a really well written article.

  5. Its a good article but i personally Would expect this if i was in the photography field of work…..You can fight it if you want too but unless you have huge amounts of reasources and man power to catch everyone its pretty much going to keep on happening……We are never going to stop it completly…..But hey everybody is free to try right….I would just spend more of my time in making my work even that much more unique and hard to copy…..Thats my 2 cents

  6. yea we know it’s going to keep happening…i guess mainly the point is that so many people don’t even have a clue what copyright is, or how it works, to begin with.

  7. i hear you brother……I like that best buy example used in the article though….”Hey where did you get that plasma from!?…Oh i stole it from best buy…That place is great!!”….haha

  8. If a copyright is automatic then how come when Night of the Living Dead came out and there was no copyright mark in the movie anybody could use that title or play that movie publicly without getting into trouble. Your whole argument is false on the bases of what I just listed here so it is you who has no idea what copyright means. If your argument about copyright was true then there would never be a need to put a copyright on movies and so on, but your statement is inaccurate on that. Now I am not saying that photos aren’t automatically copyrighted I am just saying that your whole argument on copyright in general is inaccurate.

  9. In 1968, when Night of the Living Dead was released, copyrights in the US were handled under the Buenos Aires Convention, and did require a copyright notice.

    In 1989 the US signed the Berne Convention, and since then copyrights have been automatic, even without a notice.

  10. Damn right. I did a photoshoot for a car club a few years ago, and eventually saw that a member of this club watermarked my photos with his name crediting himself for the photographs and was using it to market himself as a photographer. I feel your pain bro.

  11. What if I find a pic on here and share it on Facebook (not saying its mine, as its not) who do I give credit to? You, Joe, or Lifeblasters?

  12. Hey very cool web site!! Man .. Excellent .. Amazing .. I’ll bookmark your website and take the feeds also…I’m happy to find numerous useful information here in the post, we need develop more strategies in this regard, thanks for sharing. . . . . .

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