January 9, 2024
Picture this scene, you’ve just got back from a trip to the outer reaches of the Bolivian jungle where you captured photographs of endangered Jaguars. You get home, and put your images on your favoured stock image website, ready to sell and recuperate some of the outlay for your trip. A few days later you see the images start appearing elsewhere, but you haven't been notified of any sales.
You sit there asking yourself what you can do about your photographs being published on other websites?
This is a story that repeats over and over for photographers across the globe.
Copyright infringement is a constant threat that photographers face, but with the right knowledge and precautions, you can safeguard your intellectual property in the best possible ways with proactive copyright protection.
With this article we aim to equip you, the photographer, with ten valuable and effective tips to help you protect your copyright, maintain control over your work and take action if your rights are not respected (And don’t worry, these tips are just as essential for bloggers, influencers and anyone creating images for a living).
First and foremost, get acquainted with copyright laws in your country, especially concepts like “Fair Use”. Staying informed will empower you to make informed decisions about how to best protect your images.
Many countries offer copyright registration. Registering your image gives you an official record of your ownership which can be helpful, though not essential, in proving that you are the owner if an infringement of your work occurs. In the US, copyright registration strengthens claims for statutory damages with an upper limit of $150,000 USD per infringement as per a 2023 US Copyright case.
If you have images that you don’t want anyone else to publish without your consent then applying watermarks can deter some potential infringers, and if they still use the image, it makes it that much easier to identify your works. However, it’s important to balance allowing your viewers to see your work and protecting it, watermarks placed too close to the edge of the image can be cropped off, too big and they spoil the aesthetic of your work. So be strategic with your placement of watermarks!
Before you upload images online you can add some simple information to each image encompassing information about your copyright, your name, company name etc. It’s not essential to prove ownership, but if someone publishes your images without permission and the meta data includes your copyright notice then it is, in essence, a digital fingerprint of your ownership of the image. Adding Metadata can be as simple as right clicking the image and clicking “properties” on a Windows PC or can be done in bulk via software such as Adobe Photoshop.
When working with clients, customers or partners educate them about the importance of respecting your copyright and the legal implications of unauthorized use of your works. Be clear about how they can use your work. You can add this information to your contracts to reinforce these principles.
If you sell your images directly you should create a licensing agreement which you keep on file. This will help avoid misunderstandings. A licensing agreement is a legally binding agreement that outlines the permissions you are granting the purchaser of the image.
If you have a single image to protect then there are numerous reverse image search functions available and with a few clicks of a mouse you can see other places your images have been published. If you have a large inventory consider contacting a legitimate Copyright Protection Agency who can monitor all of your images for you, even taking legal action against infringing uses of your copyright protected images (for more information about how these agencies detect infringements click here).
Though the temptation to contact a third party using your work directly may be high, depending on the outcome you want (and whether you want to issue a takedown or are seeking the compensation that you, as a rights holder, are legally entitled to seek), take legal advice. This can either be via an intellectual property lawyer or a technical solution through a Copyright Protection Agency like Copyright Agent. They will help you take appropriate action to defend your rights.
It’s important to put this information online to inform your viewers and any potential infringers that you take the issue of your copyrights seriously. You can also include a small byline under each image you publish on your own site, i.e “© (Your Name)” to further reinforce your ownership of the images.
When adding images to your own site think to yourself, how are my customers viewing these images? On a phone? On a laptop? Does anyone who visits your website really need your raw image file that’s big enough to print the image on the side of a bus? No. Think small and give access to large file sizes only after purchase.
In conclusion, safeguarding your art goes beyond just capturing amazing images – it's about protecting your creative legacy. By understanding copyright laws, leveraging technology and fostering awareness of copyright among your clients, photographers can secure their intellectual property and if it is infringed, then you have plenty of options you can pursue to remedy the situation.
It’s important to remember that leaving your work exposed and neglecting to take action on copyright infringements of your work can have unintended consequences and shouldn’t be a viable option for content creators intent on making a living from their photography.
The power to proactively protect your work lies in your hands.
Copyright Agent - www.copyrightagent.com