A Brief Guide to Copyright

Here are the notes from the Copyright discussion in our November meeting.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a legal concept that gives artists (in this case, the photographer) the right  to control the ways in which their material (photographs) can be used. These rights cover copying, printing, broadcasting, renting and lending copies to the public.

With copyright, a person or organisation wanting to commercially use your image has to get your permission first and, perhaps, pay for the privilege.
Without copyright, people would be free to use your work without payment or permission.

Often, the photographer will also have the right to be identified and to object to alterations to their work.

International conventions offer protection in most countries, though local, national laws may sometimes apply.

How do I get it?

Copyright automatically exists on your photograph the moment you press the shutter and the image is recorded on your memory card. From that point, it is YOUR image and no-one can (legally) use YOUR image without YOUR permission. In other words, no-one else can make and sell copies of your photos, publish your photos on the internet or in books, create other artforms using your photos (eg Photoshop edits) or license your photos to other people for use in exchange for payment.
There are two exceptions:

  1. If you are asked to take the photographs by your full-time employer as part of your job
  2. If there is an agreement that assigns copyright to another person or party.

The exact time copyright lasts for varies a little, but as a rough guide, in the UK, copyright on photographs lasts for at least 25 years from the date of creation. For film and video work it is 50 years.

Copyright only applies to the actual image, not the idea behind the image.

What do I need to do?

You don’t actually NEED to do anything. You own copyright on your image automatically.

However, there are a few things you can do to help the process.

The first is to make others aware that you have copyright on any image visible by the public (eg on the internet) or shared with others.

  • Check your camera settings.
    Many modern cameras allow you to electronically embed your name and the date and time into your image automatically when you fire the shutter. Note, though, that this can be altered on copies using Photoshop, Aperture or Windows so this cannot be taken as proof of copyright.
  • Add a notice
    You can add a notice such as “© 2012, John Smith” to or below images you share. Again, this does not prove that you own copyright but it does warn others that you claim copyright on the image and that it should not be copied, sold etc.
  • Register your images
    It is possible to register your image with UKCS – the UK Copyright Service (or another regiustration service). This means they keep a copy of your images for you with a note of the date and time (of registration) and your name. As a result, you have independently verifiable evidence of the date and content of your images. There is a fee for this which, at the time of writing, is £39 for 5-year protection or £64 for 10 years.
    More information on the UKCS here.
    See also this useful information on choosing a coyright registration service.

The © symbol

You do not have to use the © symbol  to copyright your images, nor does the © symbol itself offer any legal protection. It simply alerts others to the fact that you are claiming copyright on an image.

Be aware that none of the above measures can actually stop unscrupulous people and organisations from copying and using your images if they are really determined.

The best way to protect your most valuable images is to watermark them in a way that will mean they are unlikely to get used by anyone else – eg across the centre.

Information on how to watermark images – coming soon.

What should I do if someone uses my pictures without permission?

If you see one of your images in print used without your permission then, realistically, there isn’t much you can do about getting it removed, particularly if the publication has already been distributed. However, in this case you will possibly be legally entitled to claim a fee.

The best thing to do is to contact the publication and tell them that you believe they have used your photo without your permission and take things from there. Ask if they would be willing to make a token payment for using your image. Or maybe, in the case of a newspaper/magazine, ask if they can give you a photo credit in the next edition if that is acceptable to you. If they refuse point blank then you could take legal action…but that could be costly so ask yourself if it’s worth the hassle!

In any event, be polite and reasonable – it may even lead to them using more of your images in the future!

In fairness, reputable publishers will always check copyright before they use images – but occasional problems have been known to occur with some small, local publications and newspapers.

Also, be aware that if you have sent a publication an image for consideration they can sometimes try to say that you were giving them permission to use it – so be clear in your wording to them. Better still, make sure the image is watermarked and then send a clean copy once terms have been agreed.

If one of your images has been used on a website you have several options:

You can ask for a payment, though small, not-for-profit websites may not be able to afford to pay.

Alternatively, you could ask them to credit the image on the website – eg, “Photo © John Smith”. It won’t make you rich, but it is a nice feather in your cap!

Or, if you really object to your image being used, or if you can’t come to some arrangement, you can ask them to remove it.

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