I’m sure you know that images are one of these most violated forms of copyright infringement.
For most of us, there’s something that just feels wrong about lifting the words of a blog post verbatim and copying it, or photocopying a page from a book and posting on our website.
But there is no such feeling when it comes to copying a photograph, especially after the Google images era.
Photographs are entitled to the same protection as written content under U.S. Copyright laws and copying a photograph without permission (even if you receive credit) is wrong.
U.S. Copyright laws protect original work of expression. That includes music, poetry, novels, artwork and photographs. And the minute you hit “send” and publish your image to the world, copyright protect attaches. But as we all know, that has never stopped anyone from blatantly copying an image. Below are seven tips you can use to protect your image from a practical standpoint and know exactly what to do in case someone uses your photo without permission.
You’ve heard it a million times – the minute you hit publish, your work is protected by copyright. And that’s true – but from a practical standpoint, you can’t do much without registering your content. For example, if someone uses your photo and you haven’t registered it, you can bring a claim against them in court, but you would first have to register your copyright before gaining access to the statutory amount – so you’re still starting with registering your content before taking action. I recently interviewed a woman who was almost sued by a photographer for using his photo. He sent her a cease and desist letter and then demanded a multi-5-figure sum of money – which her insurance ended up paying, plus attorney’s fees, and the photographer did not even have to go to court.
Registering your copyright with the US Copyright Office offers you a plethora of benefits that go beyond someone just knowing you’re the owner. Some of those benefits include: (1) having a registered copyright is a tangible asset which produces a revenue stream that you can leave in your estate; (2) the ability to recuperate up to $150,000 in statutory damages and attorney’s fees; (3) you will have tangible proof of your ownership if you are approached by publishers, film makers or any popular brands to buy your photos. Furthermore, under the Berne Convention – registering your work with the U.S. Copyright office offers you copyright protect with the UK and other countries party to it.
Copyrighting every single photograph you take is tricky – that’s all you would do every day. However, you need to build the copyrighting process into your workflow and create a system for determining which photographs you will publish and then subsequently copyright them (which you can do within 3 months of publicly publishing it).
While this doesn’t offer paramount protection – it is low hanging fruit. Get into the habit of marking your image to let everyone know that you are holding yourself out to be the owner and you own the copyright. You can do this by (1) using the © symbol (2) next to it, include your name (3) the year it was copyrighted.
Depending on the program you use to edit your images, you are able to enter electronic information that describes the images. You should use these fields to code your image with metadata that includes identifying information about the owner. You should include the title of the work and the name of the owner and author of the photograph.
Taking step 2 and 3 are crucial in recouping damages if someone uses your photo. Section 1202(b) of the U.S. Copyright act makes it illegal for someone to remove your metadata from your photo to hide infringement. The fines start at $2,500 and go to $25,000. Furthermore, you don’t need to register your copyright in order to receive protection under this section.
Put a #copyright notice on your photos. See the 6 other tips for #protecting your #blogphotos #online https://wp.me/p7IY3K-uo
You can do everything in all 4 steps and someone could still misuse your photo. Registration or using the © symbol doesn’t create any special type of alert system. You have to monitor your work to make sure no one is using it. There are plenty of web crawling programs that can do reverse image searches – Tineye is one example and WordPress offers some plug-ins.
We all hate to be that jerk but sometimes it’s necessary. Copying of photographs is so rampant that no one thinks anything of it. If you find out that someone is using one of your photographs without your permission, you have a few options.
You can first ask the violator to remove it – informally, or you could send them an immediate cease and desist letter or you can do both of those things and demand a fee (which you would be entitled to under U.S. Copyright laws). I usually advise my clients to gather as much information before contacting the owner of the site. So, take screenshots of your photo as it is displayed on the website, or social media, get the name of the website, URL, and a direct link to the page using your photo.
If the violator does not remove your photo from the website (after a cease and desist letter), you may file a DMCA take-down notice – which you can send to the host of the website owner. The U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act states that the internet service provider (ISP) that hosts a website is not liable for copyright violations if it removes the information from its website. As a result, ISP providers and hosts are very responsive to DMCA notices. The DMCA notice must be in writing, lists the copyright owner’s name, the copyrighted work claimed to be infringed and the materials (i.e. the website or blog post) infringing on your work.
A DMCA take-down notice is a legal document which must be signed with the acknowledgement of good faith and under penalty of perjury. False claims under the DMCA takedown notice can result in huge fines.
Of course if that doesn’t work, then you may need to hire a lawyer and to initiate action in court – either by filing a copyright infringement claim or for breach of your website Terms of Conditions.
Art Steele is a IP/Tax lawyer who left BigLaw and founded her own law firm in 2014. Her mission is to empower and educate creatives and entrepreneurs about the legal aspects of funning their business and protecting their content. Her weekly podcast, Legal EASE for Entrepreneurs (available on iTunes, Stitcher and Soundcloud) is the only podcast dedicated to walking entrepreneurs through complex legal issues.
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