Peter Stevenson is a director at InFocus Insurance
, which insures professional photographers across the UK. The business is seeing an increase in the number of photographers concerned about people lifting their images without permission. Here, he takes a look at a recent case...
Copyright is a legal concept that gives artists the exclusive right to publish, adapt and license their work for financial benefit. As a photographer, this means your images are automatically protected by copyright when a photo is taken. However, too many people are unaware of this fact and use images they find online for all manner of purposes. It has become incredibly easy for people to reproduce, share and manipulate photos at virtually no cost. This means that if your images appear online, you’re at constant risk of copyright infringement.
In recent months an increasing number of high profile cases have hit the headlines and have made photographers sit up and listen. Cases of photos being taken from blogs or other websites without the permission of the photographer are all too common. A recent case that occurred in America demonstrates the point and shows that photographers are fighting back and taking their copyright seriously.
Brian Edwards and Tom Privitere, a New Jersey couple were horrified when a photo of them taken at their engagement party was lifted from their blog, altered and then used in an anti-gay union’s political campaign 2,000 miles away.
The photo had been posted on Edwards' personal blog but was taken and amended, showing the couple in front of a different background and then used in a political campaign to attack a Republican who supported civil union legislation. The couple and the photographer who took the image are quite rightly suing for this infringement.
The case is quite unbelievable and although an extreme example, demonstrates that photographers must be on their guard.
Let’s be clear - the law states that if a photo is taken by a photographer who is employed to take that image, for example by a studio, it becomes the property of the employer rather than the photographer. However, as a freelance photographer, if you’re paid by someone to take an image, you are not their employee and therefore usually retain ownership of the copyright. Your photos should never be reproduced without permission, even by the people featured in the images.
The good news for photographers is that copyright infringement is beginning to be taken more seriously. This is demonstrated by a recent case where UK souvenir maker Temple Island Collection Ltd won a ruling against a tea company that it accused of breaching copyright by using a picture of a London bus on its packaging. The original photo was taken by the MD of the souvenir company and manipulated using Photoshop. The image used by the tea company was not the exact same image, however, the judge in this case ruled that the photo was similar to the one used by the souvenir company and of the same subject and therefore ruled that it was a copyright infringement. The case could open the floodgates for thousands more cases like this – if someone has copied your idea for a photo, even if that photo is not exactly the same as the one you took, you may well have a case.
So what can photographers do to protect their work? We recommend that photographers always use a copyright watermark on photographs or at the very least include a copyright symbol to avoid any confusion. Get into the habit of regularly scrolling the internet for your images to see if they crop up anywhere they shouldn’t.
If you do find that someone has taken your work, in the first incidence, it is advisable to contact the person or organisation to make them aware of the copyright infringement. They should immediately take the photo down. In cases like the above where the infringement is more sinister or if there is a refusal to remove the image, it’s advisable to speak to an expert – your insurance provider or a legal expert, to find out exactly where you stand.
provides specialist insurance for photographers and photography studios across the UK.