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  • Writer's pictureKristian

The Scoop on Copyright - Who Knew?


Why is copyright so important to photographers? Why do labs (even 1 hour Walmart) ask for print releases? Why do photographers post giant logos and Proof comments on their viewing galleries? Online theft is a HUGE issue for photographers because it threatens their very livelihood. Now, I'll admit some photographers are a bit more adamant about protecting copyright than others, but we are all aware of the implications that stolen work has on the photography industry. Many times clients think that since they are in the photos the copyright belongs to them. This is not the case in the U.S.


Please note: I am not an attorney. Please consult an attorney if you need legal help.


First, a couple of definitions:


1.Personal Print Rights: Some photographers give personal print rights with their photography packages. These typically are limited to printing from printers such as Walmart or CVS. Sometimes they are limited to a certain size. When a lab asks for a Copyright release, they are typically talking about a print release. Print releases allow for reproduction of an image but do not grant the bearer copyright privileges, including privileges to submit images for publication or sell images for profit.


2. Copyright Release: Photographers often sign one of these to have their work published for someone else's monetary gain. This could be in a magazine, as a mass-produced print or for a model's portfolio. Photographers don't generally grant these to family clients.


3. Editing Release: Photographers will often give this release to other photographers or graphic artists. Photographers should not edit other photography work without this type of release. This protects both parties from copyright infringement.



So what's the big deal? Why are photographers concerned about a few stolen pixels?

Other Photographers:


Every photographer at some point will have their work stolen, and often it is stolen by other less experienced photographers to promote their photography sessions. Even if the photographer who steals the images posts a disclaimer that it is not their photograph, the photographer must get written permission to use the image for profit from the original photographer. This causes a few problems:

- Copyright infringement and possible legal reproductions

- Misleading the potential clients about what the photographer's work looks like

- Misrepresentation of the editing and lighting styles of the photographer

- Clients that end up disappointed with their images when they paid for a beautiful session and ended up with a "pinterest fail".


Well Meaning Clients: Often clients screenshot their images because they are so excited to share them with family. Many photographers release proofs with a 'soft edit' which represents their work but may not be perfect (for example, there are people in the background of a park image). This soft proofing saves time for the photographer and dollars for the client because the photographer only fully edits the images the client loves. This causes a few problems:

- Low resolution images do not print at a professional level and often the client is disappointed by a pixelated image

- The photographers work is not well represented on social media (we're a proud bunch, it hurts our egos).

- The client has committed a Copyright violation


Other Countries: Have you ever seen those unbelievable beautiful dresses that cost $10 advertised online? Many times when you receive those dresses they are less than what you expected. One of my favorite dress designers, Dollcake (I have tons of these dresses available in my client closet), has their designs copied on a daily basis. Their photographer based out of Florida has their images stolen frequently. These discount designer dresses never look like the images for two reasons. One, professional photography is awesome, and two, the quality that Dollcake provides simply can not be duplicated with $10, despite any exchange rate. Obviously we have a few problems here:

- Copyright infringement for the photographer

- Stolen designs (legally and ethically wrong)

- Misleading the consumer (if it's too good to be true...)

- Difficult to protect assets overseas


Legal recourse: The best recourse for photographers is educating clients and other, newer, photographers. Not only is taking those seemingly innocent screenshots illegal, it honestly hurts when someone steals an image you have poured your time and heart into. We know the result will either be unhappy clients who were advertised something they are not receiving or loss of income which many of us use to put food on our tables.

We do have a few tricks up our sleeves:

- Education: Most people just don't know what is happening. Photography seems like a simple and profitable business. Even a photographer who charges $100 for an hour of shooting is making a huge profit, right? No, sorry. Divide that $100 by 7 (4 hours to edit, 1 hour to correspond/advertise, 1 hour to shoot, 1 hour to travel) and take out expenses (Gear $$$!!, Gas, Advertisements, Websites, Contracts, Licenses, Taxes, Gallery Preview Software, Photoshop Subscriptions- and the list goes on), $100 photographers don't even make minimum wage.

- Cease and Desist: The first legal step we take against stolen images, (typically with other companies), is sending a legal letter to have our images removed from whatever form they are being used in (Typically advertisements or other photographer's portfolio).

- Small Claims Court: Just like other civil issues, photographers are able to elevate to small claims courts and recover a fee for image use

- Legal mitigation: Having a mitigation specialist assigned to settle a case

- Regular court: Generally only used with corporations and larger cases


So in a nutshell: Stolen images and misuse of copyright = photographers that stay up all night crying into their coffee, wondering what to do.

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