Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Copyright, what?

Though I am still wet behind the ears in the world of photography as a business, I have been around long enough to see the word 'copyright' thrown around like wildfire.  I have seen horror stories about clients outright stealing photos, infringing on copyright and feeling no shame in their game.  But I have also seen clients who just didn't know how copyright pertained to them and their photo shoot.  So here is my vent, my explanation, my hope that I can teach at least 1 person what it's like to be in a business that has more shrink than sales.

Copyright: –noun
the exclusive right to make copies, license, and otherwise exploit a literary, musical, or artistic work, whether printed, audio, video, etc.: works granted such right by law on or after January 1, 1978, are protected for the lifetime of the author or creator and for a period of 50 years after his or her death. 
Copyright pertaining to a photograph (per the US 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.
People seem to think that because they pay for a print, that print is theirs to do with as they please.  They can scan it, put it on Facebook, photoshop it, make 4,000 copies of it and use it as wallpaper, or tattoo it on their behind.  This is not true.  It's the same as owning a copy of Twilight the movie; you can't copy it, post it on a website,  edit it or splice in images of yourself over Bella's face.  You own a copy of someone else's work.  You do not own the rights to it.  It does not matter if you are in the photograph, your minor child or your wuvable kitteh Fluffers, the photo belongs to the photographer.  Unless you've been given written and signed (sometimes even notarized) documentation releasing the copyrights to you, you are not allowed to reproduce, alter, edit or make money off of the photo in any way shape or form.  That's right, no photo stamped toilet-paper or wall sized murals of Fluffers, unless you've been given direct permission from the photographer.  

Now I'm sure you're saying to yourself, "This is all well and good, but nobody's ever going to find out!".  Think again, hotshot.  Do you know how many time's I've seen Great Uncle Ned post a comment on someone's Facebook about certain photos?  Do you know how many people really don't understand the privacy settings on Facebook?  Do you know how many times I've heard of people getting invited over to so-and-so's house for elevensies, only to notice a pretty little pixelated and watermarked photocopy hanging on the wall?  Word gets around.  And let me tell you, when you're found out to be a thief, word spreads like wildfire across the photography circuit.

Here's a little story about the little photographer that couldn't.  Photographer [z] started up a business taking pictures of families and kiddos in a nearby park.  A few weeks later, the little photographer that couldn't started up her own business,  hoping to steal money, time and clients from [z].  She studied [z]'s photographs and copied (very poorly) every last one.  Little did the bad photographer know, that they had friends in common.  Friends that immediately informed [z] of the little photographer that couldn't's outright copying.  And all of [z]'s friends told their friends, and so one and so forth, and the little photographer that couldn't ended her business with 1 client to her name.  The moral of that story?  You never know many degrees of separation there are between yourself and those you steal from.

And guess what happens when you steal and get caught?  You get sued.  Yes, copyright infringement on photographs is a lawbreaking offense!  In the average photographer's contract that gets signed prior to shooting is a little clause stating for every image that is reproduced, altered or otherwise stolen, the client agrees to pay in the ballpark of $1,500 per offense!  That means 5 or 6 innocent little facebook pictures could cost you nearly $12,000.  Worth it?  Not likely.

"But she charges SOOO MUCH for her prints!  All I want to do is go to walmart and get terrible, horrible (but cheap!) reprints made for fifteen cents!"
Consider this: She charges "sooooo much" for her prints because it takes her "soooo much" time to get them perfect.  She uses a $3,000 camera outfitted with a $1500 lens, $500 of extra equipment, 20 hours of post processing time (away from her kids/husband/wuvable kitteh Fluffers) using a $2000 computer and $900 software to get your pictures absolutely perfect.  If you just spent $8,000 and 20 hard worked hours on a work of art, would you give it to some Joe Shmoe for free and let him photocopy it on a $40 xerox machine?  I think not.  Photography is art, and should be respected as such.  If you don't want to  afford a private photographer their due respect, print prices and all, you should hit up the nearest Walmart and hope the random teenager they have working there knows the difference between the lens's f-stop and the camera's International Organization for Standardization speed.


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