One of the biggest problems the advent of technology and the fully-integrated, networked and inter-linked world has created is a tremendous misunderstanding of copyright laws. Through simple “Select All > Copy > Paste” functions, the bodies of work created by one person become the un-paid-for expressions of another. To some, this cavalier use of intellectual property is no big deal. After all, they figure, if you’re putting it out on the web, you must be okay with it being used, right? Wrong.
Photography, especially, has fallen severe victim to this dilemma. Most photographers want to be able to put their work on their online portfolio for all to see without the distraction of watermarks or logos branded into the image. Right-click disabling software is not effective either as those who know how can easily bypass such measures. But it is not the photographs or the method of acquiring them that are the real problem in today’s technologically evolved world – it is the mindset of the general populace that is to blame.
The ease of capturing and re-using digital images or text has fostered a general impression in our society that it’s simply okay to do so. As professional photographers, we have seen this in so many different areas over the years. We have had people see a photo of ours on Facebook that they like and state publicly that they are printing it out and blowing it up for their walls with never a thought of compensation to the owner of the photo (us). We have had commercial clients balk at the “Usage Rights” fee in our commercial contracts because they don’t understand that they are not purchasing a photo – they are purchasing the rights to USE that photo. It becomes difficult sometimes to explain that this is not a new concept. Usage rights have been around since the birth of copyright law.
Perhaps the worst offense we have endured, though, is the taking of photos from our public profiles for use in news publications – either digital or print. You would think that a news organization, in particular, would understand the value of copyright. Surprisingly, some do not. Perhaps the cause of this is the very sneaky brainchild of organizations like CNN who, several years ago, realized they could get their news photography for free by simply offering photo credit to the photographer. Suddenly, every Joe and Jane with a camera who just wanted to see their name in print was offering up all their photos to the news outlets for nothing. As a result, some news organizations now expect you to provide photography for free.
I am aware how much of a rant all of this must sound like. Maybe even a bit whiny. I get it. But, to those of us whose income relies heavily on our craft, it is no small matter. Architects get paid. Caterers get paid. Seamstresses get paid. Photographers have every right to expect the same. So the next time you see something really wonderful and you have the urge to press that right-side mouse button, please stop for a moment and consider what you do for a living…and ask if you would be okay with me copying and using your work for free.
About the Author: Jeremy Jones is the Senior Marketing Strategist for 603 Media Group. Primarily tasked with the challenges of keeping our small business running, Jeremy also occasionally branches out into public speaking, blogging, website design and raising his nine-year-old son to not be another one of “those damn kids”.