2012
07.02

My brother-in-law is the president of a high-end audio component company.  A grey market of over 10K websites use his photos of his products on their sites and therefore don’t have to pay for their own photographs plus, and probably more importantly, they can appear to be authorized agents for his company.  If his photographer had registered the images with the Copyright Office, then my brother-in-law would have been able to shut down every one of those sites by sending out what is called a DMCA Take Down notice [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] to the ISPs hosting those sites.

And then, if any of the unauthorized users ignored his request to remove the images, he would pretty much have an open and shut case of copyright infringement against both the infringer and the ISP’s.  He might even have to add a new income stream to his accounting!

As I mentioned before in my last blog entry about copyright and the “Walmart-ization” of professional photography, I believe that many of the people who are now doing “professional” photography have little or no understanding of how they can be helping their clients with the services they provide.  And that’s primarily because they’re working on a “widget”, or quantity based business model rather than a creative/service model and they’re constantly afraid that the next guy is going to underbid them for jobs.

One of the most important ways we can assist our clients is by making sure that all of the images that we take for them are protected and not available to unauthorized users.  They have to be registered with The Copyright Office at the Library of Congress.  By having them all registered before any use is made of them in “public”, be it on the web or in a brochure, we know that they will be protected.

The most prolific infringement of images seems to be on the web.  Some folks who don’t know or understand copyright infringement or simply don’t care about copyright will simply right click on the images they like and use them wherever they please on the web.  I may not be able to prevent folks from doing that, but when I do discover it I can bring the weight of the Federal Courts to bear on the situation for the protection of my clients!

Since the beginning of the explosion of the web in the mid-Nineties, Congress realized [or was pushed to recognize ;-)] that changes needed to be made to the Copyright Act of 1976.  So in 1998 the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was passed to advance the protection of copyrighted materials that were appearing on the exploding world wide web.  Now, it is much easier to prove infringement and there are new remedies available when images are infringed even before going to court.

What I do to avoid this sort of predicament that my brother-in-law has is register every single one of my images, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!  Whether they are “great art” from one of my personal projects, work done for a client or simply snapshots of the kids, they are all registered.  I want to be able to protect my images, my clients and my family!  There is never any doubt about whether or not an image is registered.  Everything is registered.

You should make sure that your photographers do this as well.

Have I mentioned that I’m the white sheep in a family of lawyers?

Somewhere in rural New Jersey

3 comments so far

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  1. Thanks Nat for breaking this down into practical terms. I know this to be a problem for photographers but didn’t understand how it could impact the client. What is the process for registering your images? Is there a fee involved?

    Love your blog. It looks very nice and I enjoyed the story of you’re uncle’s birthday.

    Best regards!

    • You are absolutely right, Teresa, that it’s the pink elephant in the room that just about all photographers are afraid to bring up! But it IS very important, especially now when it takes a nanosecond for photos to travel around the world, for the clients as well! If only we and our clients could develop trusting relationships with each other rather than working from a place of fear and apprehension [on both sides]!
      There is a fee associated with each registration with the Copyright Office in The Library of Congress and I accept that as simply part of the cost of doing business so that it’s figured into my professional fees and not broken out or itemized.
      Thanks so much for your comment!
      Nat

  2. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve had to explain to clients that they can’t just “take images off the Web” for use in their brochures or Website. There is still a huge gap in the understanding and upholding of copyright law out there when it comes to online use. It’s definitely an uphill battle and I applaud you for being diligent and persistent with your own images. Seems like there’s very few people like you out there in the commercial photography industry these days – of course, I always knew that you were one-of-a-kind! :)

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