Stop messing up my art! That’s violating copyright! | Legal tips for photographers

Sep 28, 2012

Topic: Copyright
Time Investment: 8 Minutes
Suggested Product: Ultimate Copyright Kit


Stand by our copyright laws.

We hear about it happening. A lot.

This week alone I found photos of mine on some random site that allowed people to download full-resolution files, forum posts about how big box store employees are being requested to not ask customers for a print release, and clients print-screen copying photographs then printing (watermark and all).

It happens.  It’s the digital age.  It sucks.

So what can we do about it?

Be educated.  Educate our clients.


Copyright Law Defined

A copyright is a legal device that gives the creator of a literary, artistic, musical, or other creative work the sole right to publish and sell that work. Copyright owners have the right to control the reproduction of their work, including the right to receive payment for that reproduction. An author may grant or sell those rights to others, including publishers or recording companies. Violation of a copyright is called infringement.

Copyright is a property right. Under the Federal Copyright Act of 1976, photographs are protected by copyright from the moment of creation.

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, the owner of the “work” is generally the photographer or, in certain situations, the employer of the photographer. Even if a person hires a photographer to take pictures of a wedding, for example, the photographer will own the copyright in the photographs unless the copyright in the photographs is transferred, in writing and signed by the copyright owner, to another person. The subject of the photograph generally has nothing to do with the ownership of the copyright in the photograph. If the photographer is no longer living, the rights in the photograph are determined by the photographer’s will or passed as personal property by the applicable laws of intestate succession.

Please note: if you are located outside the U.S., these will not be applicable for you.


Examples of Copyright Infringement

  • Claiming another’s work as your own.
  • Any manipulation (including editing) that is not done by permission.
  • Scanning a picture.
  • Downloading sneak peeks from the web.
  • Taking a screenshot of gallery.



How do we educate our clients about copyright?

  • Educate yourself.
  • Include all particular copyright laws in your contract.
  • Utilize a print release for digital files that repeats (again) copyright laws.
  • Deliver your photographs/digital files with a copyright card.


Ways to protect yourself

Copyright infringement and theft of digital property is a reality we face.  Some ways that may prevent infringement (but not always stop) may be:

  • Upload low-resolution files.
  • Watermark your photographs. (Some online galleries such as ShootProof do this automatically for you.)
  • Disable right click (although this doesn’t prevent screen shots).
  • Offer watermarked digital files for web sharing.
  • Sticky Albums – It is a custom mobile website that can be created for each client.  The client’s can save the pictures to their mobile device (without internet connection) but does not allow printing.


What do I do if I find someone infringing on my copyright?


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