Editorial: Photography and Copyrights
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!