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How To Protect The Copyright Of Your Images

How can professional photographers protect the copyright of their images?

|  General Photography
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PeterPeter Stevenson is a director of InFocus Insurance, a specialist in insuring professional photographers across the UK. One of the increasing concerns of the photographers he works with is the number of people taking their work and replicating it without permission.  Tracking where photos appear has become an almost impossible task with millions of images shared on the internet every day.  Here, Peter Stevenson explains how photographers can help protect their work.

As a photographer, in the vast majority of cases, you own the copyright of the images you take, unless you have explicitly agreed to assign the copyright to another person. Usually, copyright lasts until 70 years after the death of its creator.  Some people think that if a photograph hasn’t got a cost attached to it, then they can take it, but this is not the case. 

In the past year, there have been examples on an almost daily basis of photographers finding their images shared on social media platforms or used on websites.  We’ve even seen more extreme examples of images used by major retailers on clothing and businesses usinghotos in billboard campaigns without securing the permission of the creator.  If large corporations don’t understand the rules, the message is clearly still not out there, and everyone within the industry must work together to raise awareness of the rules that govern the copyright of photography. 

Identify Your Images

Photographers should take basic measures to protect their images.  The first step is stamping each photo with your identification and preferably a date.  Some photographers fear this may take away from the image but this is an absolute must if you want to deter people from taking your work.  

So what can you do if you find someone has used one of your images online without permission?  If the website could be a good referral source for your business, you may want the photo to remain there.  If so, the first step is to write to the website in question, let them know you own the image and request a photo credit.  In most cases, websites are more than happy to oblige.  State in the letter how your image can be used, who by and where exactly.  Insist they add a credit and copyright to your image and a link to your website, too. If you don’t get a response, contact the web host, and they can send you a form and will remove the content quickly. 

If you feel more strongly, if the website fails to act on your request, or you want payment for the copyright infringement, you could seek legal advice.  You should do this before contacting the website in question. If a letter is sent by a lawyer it carries more weight and it’s likely that your query will be taken seriously. Be aware, however, that costs are hard to contain and can escalate unless you utilise the Small Claims Track available under the Patents County Court.

Photographers Fighting Back

Unfortunately the unauthorised use of photography has become a growing phenomenon with the advent social media and the thousands of online image libraries. Photographers are fighting back and the message is slowly getting out there that photos can’t simply be copied and pasted.  Prevention is the best course of action, so always mark you images clearly so there is no doubt who the photo belongs to. Use low res images online to reduce the likelihood of photos being taken and used offline.   If you do find your photos online, take action and make sure that whoever has taken your image, knows they are infringing your copyright. 


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