Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Copyright Conundrum

The Copyright Conundrum

A few months ago, I had a clearly watermarked photo stolen by a group on Facebook.  This is nothing new as it has happened many, many times over the years—both on Facebook and elsewhere.  I would imagine that I never even find the majority of stolen photos.  Heretofore; on a first offense--I've tried to be courteous and request that the image be removed rather than just turning the offender in.  Most times, the person doesn't understand copyright law and apologizes.  This was an unusual experience as one of the group administrators, and several of the members decided to argue with me about it.  

One member went so far as to state that stealing and altering photos is his First Amendment Right and make a variety of other incorrect/common misstatements.   I’ve seen his photo *art* over the years which consists of a variety of mostly stolen images to which he has either applied a drop and drag HDR filter or has sharpened the image to the point of the extreme.  I happen to have the exact same photo software, so know exactly how those images are being enhanced.  

Did you know that a digital image is encoded with a variety of information including the camera used, exposure and a host of other data?  And, that software is available to read that information?  I’m guessing that the majority of the population doesn’t know, or else they’d leave digital images well enough alone.

No honor among thieves . . .

I tried my best to reason with this Group citing the law, and that photographers put a tremendous amount of work into their photographs which are their intellectual property.  I don’t imagine that they would be flattered, or in any way pleased if a thief took something that they had created with a tremendous amount of time and effort away from them. Much more is involved in photography than just clicking the shutter.

This particular Group proposed that maybe they should take a vote on using stolen images, but finally concluded that they did it for “fun”, and that since the one particular member had done it hundreds of times “unmolested” that they would just continue.  I imagine that the reason for not being “molested” is because that the majority of his images are private and most aren't aware that they have any recourse. So, c'est la vie. The Group has just officially endorsed both the breaking of copyright law and Facebook’s T.O.S. (Terms of Service). 

Over the years; I’ve always permitted use of my images so long as the person had asked for written permission PRIOR to using it, and crediting me as the photographer with a link back to my website.  Occasionally, I have to say no because a particular photo is either under consideration for publication or has already been accepted for publication.  I’m a strict believer in not “double-dipping”.  I don’t feel that it is ethical and publications don’t like it—even if it is technically legal. Most publishers are very prompt but I've occasionally had photos and articles waiting in queue for over three years. 

Every Internet Provider and Every Form of Social Media has a form to file for Copyright Violation/Theft of Intellectual Property.  Here are direct links to several:





No, you won’t receive any kind of damages but provided that one can prove ownership--the image will be taken down.  Generally, they require an authorized representation of one's work (such as on one's website or the link to where the original post was made on your own account).  It's always a good idea to keep the full sized photo or graphic on file, so if some issue does arise.

Don’t shoot the messenger!

Statement: “Everything on the web is free use or in the public domain.”

Statement: “copyright (if it actually exists) has to be renewed every 25 years.”

Incorrect:  “All works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain. Works published after 1922, but before 1978 are protected for 95 years from the date of publication. If the work was created, but not published, before 1978, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.”
Other helpful links:

Statement: “You have to file with the Library of Congress to register the copyright.”

Well, I can tell you from practical experience that you do not.  Some of my work is on file, some is not.  You'll find that it's the same for publications such as books and magazines.  Apparently, those who quote this have never worked with a publisher. Again, read the Terms of Service where the image is posted and see what that says regarding ownership. What is required to prove ownership is an affidavit stating that you own the original work and providing proof of that ownership.  In the case of a photo, having the original watermarked photo on your own website (photo quality is reduced every time that a photo is saved) or having the full sized copy has always worked for me.

Statement: “But, it’s for educational use.”

Better tread lightly and follow these guidelines.
Statement:  “I can steal the photo so long as I credit the source.” 

"Attribution" in the link below= crediting the source.  You are STILL in the legal WRONG.

Better do some further research.

Lastly, Facebook’s Terms of Service.

Read the entire section 5, but I’m quoting point 5 of that section. "If you repeatedly infringe other people's intellectual property rights, we will disable your account when appropriate."  

So, how does one share a photo legally??

On Facebook, there is a "Share" button under photos.  Using the Share button hotlinks back to the original person who posted the photo and credits them as the owner. (Of course, this would imply that they actually owned the photo to begin with.  If not, see above.)

A drop down menu will appear.
Select where you want to share the photo.

Lastly, select the privacy from the pull down menu at the bottom.

Be aware that if you Share a photo set to "Friends" on a public Group or Page, this is what everyone who is NOT on your friends list will see ~

"Attachment Unavailable
This attachment may have been removed or the person who shared it may not have permission to share it with you."

Obviously, this rather defeats the purpose of any type of advertising.

In closing, it's a fairly simple process to know when it is acceptable and legal to use another person's photo.  When in doubt--DON'T or simply write and request permission.  Please RESPECT yourself and RESPECT the work of others.  Obey Copyright Law and Facebook's Terms of Service.

In the immortal words of David Spade (Coneheads)

"Isn't that cute?  OK, that's not yours."

Update! May 13, 2016 (Friday the 13th—Key up the ominous music.) 

I was going through some old papers and came across one of my hard copy copyright forms on file at the Library of Congress.  As previously stated; I had indeed filed this forms multiple times. I took a photo of the form and posted it at my own Facebook page.

The group reacted by starting up another discussion.  Ultimately, they decided to continue with the practice of using stolen photos and evicted me from their group.  Hopefully, at some point technology will evolve to the point of automatically removing stolen images.  In the meantime, photographers and graphic designers best form of protection is to keep images small and use a large watermark.

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