Welcome back! Are you ready for the next round of information? I promised that this would be more fun, and it will be, but first we need to tackle one of the most important items in a photographer’s career: copyright ©.
The Copyright Law of 1976 states that photographers own the rights to their photographs for their lifetime plus 70 years. Copyright protection exists from the time the work is created in fixed form. Basically that means when you push the shutter, you own the shot. The copyright in the work of author- ship immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work. Only the author or those deriving their rights through the author can rightfully claim copyright.
This is a basic law in the United States, and the only thing that can change it is if you sign away your rights. If you are an employee of a company and creating photography is your job, then the company owns the copyright to those images only, not what you create on your own. This is called “work for hire.” Some clients may ask you to do work for hire or suggest a buyout, but that means that you give up the right to ever claim you created the work. You lose all rights to license and profit from your photos. If you decide to do this, the transfer of all rights must be in writing. I encourage you to educate your clients, and to not give up your rights.
You don’t have to do anything for the copyright to be given, it’s automatic. But if you want to protect yourself against unauthorized use and be able to recover more than just actual damages (including legal fees), then you must register your images with the U.S. Copyright Office (www.copy- right.gov). This is a fairly easy process, and the Web site is understandable and has the forms for download. You must send images (on a CD is the easiest way) and pay a fee of $45. You can put many images on the CD, large enough to be viewable, but they don’t need to be big files. They need to be clear enough to show reasonable detail should they need to be compared in case of any infringement.
Registration is important if you publish your work, have it on a Web site, have a gallery show and sell prints, or make a book. Anywhere that people can access the images and use them without authorization. It’s crazy nowadays because we are so flooded with images, and the upcoming generation thinks that if it’s online, it’s theirs to steal and use however they like. If you find that someone has used your photos without permission, you can collect “actual” damages, which means what the fee would have been if they had contacted you. For example: You license your photo to a monthly magazine for one-time use. A few months later, you see it used in another magazine from the same publisher. You can send an invoice for the fee you would have charged based upon the usage, along with a letter saying that you are sure that it was an oversight on their part, and oh, by the way, you want to remind them that violation of copyright is a violation of federal law, and you expect payment within 10 days. You will get your check, quickly. But if you have registered your images, and a company willfully uses them without your permission, you are entitled to punitive damages as well as recovering your legal fees and court costs. Most photographers I know set up a schedule to send in their work. There is much, much more to this law, and I suggest that you go to the Web site for more info. Also check out PACA, the Picture Agency Council of America (www.pacaoffice.org), which publishes the Copyright Commandments listed below.