Photo Attorney

Feb 23, 2005

What Comes Around

Daniel Woolsey is being sentenced for felony today in California. He was caught selling pirated copies of Autodesk's AutoCAD(R) software. Additional counts for selling other pirated software, including Adobe PhotoShop, were dropped as part of a plea bargain agreement. "This case should be a wake up call to copyright violators that they can face serious consequences. Autodesk will continue to work closely with law enforcement agencies . . . to protect our valuable intellectual property . . . ." said Sandy Boulton, director of Piracy Prevention at Autodesk.

Why should photographers care about this? Because we don't want our intellectual property - copyrights/trademarks/trade secrets - stolen from us. When we share that music file with a friend or copy Photoshop from a colleague, we are perpetuating the problem, even if it is on a small scale. Is it ok to steal a pack of gum but not a car?

Here's what you can do to keep people from stealing your images. First, don't steal others' work. Stop the cycle.

Second, like the software companies, make your work difficult to steal. Don't put large files on the web. Put a watermark on them. Track them on the web with a program such as "Digimarc." Include a delivery memo with your photos to document what you are sending. Specifically identify the limited rights you are granting to any user. Put your name and contact info with your images. Include your copyright notice on all of your work.

Third, just like the Autodesk company above, prosecute those who steal your work. Send the message that it's not ok to steal the gum or the car.

Take my advice, get professional help.

Feb 16, 2005

Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too

You can sell the copyright to an image. If so, you give up all rights that you had in the image as if you never took the photograph. But the only way to give up a copyright to an image is in writing.

Even when copies of a photo are distributed, the photographer retains the copyrights to the image. If you give your client copies of the digital files, without more, you are not giving up your copyrights.

You also can give specific, limited rights for the use of that copyright, while maintaining ownership of the copyright for the image. It's called "licensing." For example, you give a magazine the limited right to print one of your photos. You send a copy of the digital file or the negative/chrome, but you state that you are granting the magazine specific limited usage of the image, whether it is for printing 100,000 one-run copies, for a specific time-frame, or however you want to specify the license. In a portrait or event business, you can give copies of the images to your clients so that they can have prints made. Limit their rights to personal use, only, and you keep them from selling the images to the Enquirer.

It's the closest thing to having your cake and eating it, too. Unless you state specifically in writing and sign the document that gives your copyright to an image to someone else, you keep the copyright, regardless of what else you do.

Take my advice. Get professional help.

Feb 12, 2005

It's come down to a ferret

In this digital age, it’s even easier for someone to steal your images. This is aggravated by a new generation that grew up copying music and other electronic files without a second thought.

To combat this, the Business Software Alliance is developing programs to promote copyright protection, cyber security, trade and e-commerce. BSA's members include software industry giants such as Adobe and Microsoft.

BSA apparently recognizes that the best way to fight infringement is to raise people's awareness at an early age. BSA has created a comic book called "Copyright Crusader to the Rescue." It was developed to teach children about cyber ethics, including responsible computer and internet use, respect for digital creativity and copyright protection. The program's mascot is a ferret, and kids selected its name, Garret.

While we wait for people to grow a conscience, you should do what you can to protect your copyrights. Register your images with the U.S. Copyright Office, and sue infringers. Check with an attorney to make sure that you exercise your rights to the fullest.

Take my advice. Get Professional Help.

Feb 11, 2005

Get Professional Help

A quick review of web forums and talking with folks will reveal that a lot of photographers need professional help -- professional legal help, that is. While the web is a wonderful tool, it has exacerbated the water-fountain rumor mill so that mis-information is rampant.

There is a reason why lawyers go to school for three full years, and then have to take over 10 hours of continuing legal education a year. The law is a difficult, ever-changing and voluminous subject. A real estate attorney can't help you with a will, and a divorce lawyer can't help you with your medical malpractice claim. It takes time and hard study to learn and to keep up with the law.

On top of that, each circumstance is different, so the law will affect your unique circumstance differently. You shouldn't take the advice of your neighbor's sister-in-law's cousin who talked to his uncle about how to prosecute a copyright infringement case. Even when the circumstance on its face looks similar, a lawyer is trained to find those nuances that may make or break your case.

The adage "penny wise; pound short" applies here. Should a photographer risk his business with self help or the advice of some guy who read an article on trademark law?

Even the advice on this blog is purely educational and does not purport to constitute legal advice. But hopefully it will steer you to consult individually with a lawyer who can help photographers like you.

Take my advice. Get professional help.