Tip of the Week – Copyright Your Images

Tip of the Week – Copyright Your Images
The "Photographers Survival Manual," by Ed Greenberg and Jack Reznicki.

The “Photographers Survival Manual,” by Ed Greenberg and Jack Reznicki.

Every week, we post a photography-related tip on our blog. These tips are typically inspired by questions we get from our customers. Sometimes we might feature a technique tip, and sometimes a gear recommendation. If there’s something specific you’d like to see in this section, let us know. Email us at blog@borrowlenses.com.

Imagine this scenario: you’re out shooting and take an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime image of the San Francisco skyline. Pleased with your work, your rush home and put it up on your Flickr account, your 500px gallery and your Goolge+ page. It’s up on Facebook, you’ve Tweeted it, it’s out there for the world to see.

Six months later, your photo is on the cover of a magazine. You didn’t give them permission to print it, and you certainly didn’t get paid for it.

So you decide to sue the magazine for copyright infringement. You head to an attorney’s office and ask him to take the case on.

His first question is likely going to be, “did you register the image with the US Copyright Office?”

If you think that just taking the image, watermarking it and putting “Image Copyright © 2012 Joe Photographer, All Rights Reserved” in the metadata was all you needed to do to protect your image from being ripped off, you’d be wrong.

To defend your copyright – at least, in court – you need to register the image with the US Copyright Office. Without you, your case cannot even be heard in court, accoding to Ed Greenberg and Jack Reznicki, authors of the “Photographer’s Survival Manual.”

“… you cannot file a copyright infringement suit against anyone without a registration in hand,” they write in the book. “Registration is your “key to the courthouse.””

A lot of photographers don’t bother with it because they think they’ll never have an image worth ripping off. In all honestly, however, you just never know when that might actually happen to you.

Witness the case of Noam Galai, an young man from Israel who experienced this first-hand. His self-portrait was used hundreds of times in about 30 or 40 countries around the world, often for the financial gain of the people ripping the image off.

The Stolen Scream: A Story About Noam Galai from FStoppers on Vimeo.

Still think it can’t happen to you?

Other photographers don’t go through the copyright process because they think it’s too complicated or too costly. The latter is untrue; it costs about $35 to register a copyright, and you can often include thousands of images in a single filing. The issue of the process being complicated is more understandable, since it can be a bit daunting to take on.

However, there are plenty of resources to guide you through the process. Here are a few of them:

  • Copyright.gov’s FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions). This is your go-to for facts about the process.
  • Photographer’s Survival Manual,” by Ed Greenberg and Jack Reznicki. This is an awesome book that gives you the straight skinny on copyright, model releases and contracts. Every photographer should own a copy of this book.
  • The Copyright Zone, a website by the authors of the “Photographer’s Survival Manual.”
  • Photo Attorney, a blog by attorney Carolyn E. Wright, where you can read about some fascinating behind-the-scenes stuff about actual copyright infringement cases.

It’s easy to overlook this vital step, but every photographer ought to be registering their work these days. We live in a litigious and piratical society, where people rip off and sue one another all the time. Having a registered copyright is, as Greenberg and Reznicki put it, “a very big shield that protects your work, and a very big club with which to pursue infringers.”

So go and get your club and shield and defend your work. The smart photographers already are.

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Sohail Mamdani is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

1 Comment

  1. How important is the aspect of Light in Photography?

    Essential to photography is the concept of light, and so professional photographers are concerned about aperture and shutter speed because aperture refers to how wide the lens is as it opens and allows light in while shutter speed refers to the length of time that light affects the picture. Thus, as important as light is, it could also hurt quality. In motion shots, especially fast-moving ones, wide apertures are vital to let in a lot of light yet short shutter speed so exact images are captured quickly and the picture is caught and the window closed to control the amount of light. Learning about automatic settings and manual settings and knowing when to switch is significant. For beginners, the automatic settings can certainly give very nice shots. It’s important for beginners to just enjoy using their DSLR without being bugged down by all its ultra-high-tech features and such complexities.

    The six automatic settings are the following:

    • Portrait – useful when taking photographs of people, gives realistic skin tone
    • Close Up – useful for close-up shots of small objects so they appear larger
    • Landscape – useful when taking photos of landscapes
    • Night Portrait – useful when taking shots of a person in low light
    • Sports – useful when taking shots of moving objects
    • Flash Off – useful when using flash is a no-no

    With automatic settings, it is important to set the DSLR to automatic focus (AF). When taking the shot, the shutter button should be pressed halfway down. Once it focuses, press it fully to take the shot. After mastering the automatic settings, learning about manual settings comes next. You’ll have more control with the quality of your pictures then. Lastly, the software Adobe Photoshop is as necessary to the photographer as Microsoft Word is to the writer. There are other software programs for photo editing, but Photoshop is simply the best there is. You can do a lot with Photoshop. With a few clicks, you make your photos simply extraordinary. You can change the color of images, make certain images sharper, resize, and others. Photoshop is great!


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