Photo Attorney

Mar 31, 2005

Preventative Law

We might do things a little differently if we could do them again. We sometimes say, "I shoulda; I coulda." It's tough to anticipate what we should do at times to prevent misfortunes.

But I'm going to do some fortune telling now. If you put your images on the web or give copies to others, at least one image will be used in a way that you have not authorized. Bet on it. Your copyright will be infringed.

When that happens, you may be surprised and angry. But will you have at your disposal the ability to do something about it?

You will IF you register your images with the US Copyright Office. The ONLY way that you can sue an infringer is if you have registered. And if you register your copyright BEFORE the infringement occurs, you have many more rights and remedies against the infringer.

So don't delay. Practice "preventative law." Don't wait until it's too late to fully protect your copyrights. Register your images NOW.

Take my advice; get professional help.

Mar 26, 2005

Learning Lessons the Hard Way

Copyrights are created at the click of the shutter. But to enforce your rights in court for infringement claims, you must first register your copyright before you bring suit in federal court. Period. It doesn't matter when the infringement is committed or the registration is completed, you still must register before filing suit.

It's too bad that a freelance writer, Glynn Wilson, in Alabama didn't learn this lesson earlier. He recently sued Kitty Kelley alleging that she used without permission some of his material for her best-selling book about the Bush family, "The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty." The validity of his claim will never be decided in court. He had to withdraw his copyright infringement suit after realizing that he was likely to lose because he had failed to register his copyright with the United States Copyright Office.

Stephen D. Henninger, Mr. Wilson's lawyer, said Mr. Wilson mistakenly believed that his copyright was protected because he had secured an International Standard Serial Number from the Library of Congress and had displayed the copyright symbol on his Internet site.

The misunderstanding of copyright law continues. Lawyers for Ms. Kelley said that the material had not been "copyrighted." That is wrong. The copyright for authors is created when pen is put to paper or the words are typed on a computer. If Mr. Wilson wrote those words, he owned the copyright to them. However, since he apparently did not REGISTER the copyright to those words, he couldn't sue for the alleged infringement.

Lessons to be learned here:

1. While you own a copyright at the moment the work is created, you MUST register that copyright with the US Copyright Office before you can file suit.

2. Register your copyrights preferably before the work is published, but always before you file suit for infringement.

3. Hire an attorney who knows copyright law and can counsel you correctly on the requirements to prosecute or defend an infringement suit.

Take my advice; get professional help.

Mar 22, 2005

10 Things You Can Do to Protect Your Images from Infringement

While it would be nice to live in a house where you don't have to lock the door, it's not practical these days. Likewise, here are 10 things you can do to protect your images from being infringed.

#1 Use the copyright "notice" - the © with a date and name of the copyright owner whenever you publish your images. (Check my Sept. 10, 2007 blog entry on how to enter put a copyright notice on your work using a keyboard.) It may stop someone from copying an image, either because the person will be reminded that the image belongs to someone or because the notice impairs the image for the person's use.

#2 Include with your copyright notice the words "All Rights Reserved." Some additional international protection is added.

#3 Register your copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office. While you own the copyright to your image when you click the shutter (in most instances), registration itself provides some evidence that the image is yours. Register it even if it's already published. It's better late than never.

#4 If you find a website that is unlawfully using one of your images, follow the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to contact the Internet Service Provider who must then remove the material from user's website.

#5 When you provide copies of your images to someone else, put IN WRITING the specific rights of usage you are giving that person.

#6 Put a copyright notice on your website, such as: All photographs appearing on this site are the property of Carolyn Wright Photography. They are protected by the U.S. copyright laws, and are not to be downloaded or reproduced in any way without the written permission of Carolyn Wright Photography.

#7 Don't steal others work, such as music. Get a license if you need a tune to accompany your slideshow. Teach your children and others to respect other's work.

#8 Read the fine print whenever you submit your image to anyone/anywhere to make sure that it's not a license agreement to use your image or to transfer the copyright.

#9 Include your copyrights in your estate planning, along with your other assets such as your house and furnishings.

#10 Sue those who steal your work. Send the message that you value your work.

Take my advice; get professional help.

Mar 17, 2005

The Fine Print

American Airlines is sponsoring a "Why You Fly" contest. The grand prize is a year's worth of flying, and most anyone could use that. You enter by submitting a photo, an essay or a video.

On the contest website, you get to the page that is titled, "Legal Terms and Conditions." You have to scan down to read the entire text. While most folks might "accept" the terms without reading them, this has some fine print that a photographer should read.

The terms state in part: "For good and valuable consideration . . . I hereby assign and transfer in perpetuity to American Airlines . . . all world-wide rights, title, and interest in . . . to all: . . . photographs . . . copyrights (including the right to register the copyright and any renewals or reversions thereof) . . . derivative works, and any other material and/or intellectual property embodied in the material created and submitted by me ('Work') for the American Airlines We Know Why You Fly Contest (the "Contest")."

If you agree to this, you have just transferred your copyright to American Airlines, regardless of whether you win a prize.

Similar events are occurring elsewhere. The license for AOL's instant messaging product, "AIM," gives AOL "all right, title and interest in any compilation, collective work or other derivative work created by AOL using or incorporating [the] . . . content. You grant AOL . . . the irrevocable, perpetual worldwide rights to reproduce, display . . . this content . . . ."

This gives AOL a liberal, free license to use any photo transmitted using "AIM." To AOL's defense, such license may be necessary to protect itself from copyright infringement. On the contrary, a transfer of copyright is not necessary for American Airlines to run its contest.

While you might think that you are safe because a copyright transfer must be in writing and signed by the copyright owner, the law has caught up with technology. You now can "sign" a document by responding electronically. A contract may be in any memorandum form, including electronic mail. It is "signed" by any mark, written, stamped or engraved, that demonstrates the intent to agree to the contract.

So read the fine print to protect your copyrights.

Take my advice; get professional help.

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Mar 8, 2005

More Than One (Tunnel) View

You’re in beautiful Yosemite National Park. On your way to the Mariposa Groves, you pull into a parking lot next to a tunnel. You look to your right and see the splendor of Yosemite Valley, including Bridal Veil Falls, Half Dome and El Capitan. Of course, you want to take a picture of it.

But wait. Look closely at your feet and you’ll see the 1000s of tripod leg indentations. It’s been done before, and done well by none other than Ansel Adams. So when you take a photo of the same “Tunnel View,” is that copyright infringement?

Copyright law protects original expressions, not ideas. So when Mr. Adams had the idea to photograph Tunnel View, he owned the copyright to the expression of that idea only. That is, his copyright covers the photograph, not the subject matter. So it’s ok to photograph Tunnel View, right? Well, there’s more.

It’s clear to most everyone that you can’t photocopy Mr. Adams’ photograph. But did you know that his copyright extends a bit more than just to the exact image? Copyright law also protects his expression of the subject as contained in his elements of composition, such as the selection of lighting, shading, camera angle, background and perspective.

The parking lot at Tunnel View is small, and gives few options to capture that scene. So if you take a shot of the same scene including some of the same elements of Mr. Adams’ composition, does that constitute infringement? It would only if you produced something "substantially similar" to his work. In other words, would the average lay observer recognize the alleged copy as having been taken from the copyrighted work?

So you lay a copy of Adam’s “Tunnel View” photograph next to your camera, and set everything you possible can to shoot precisely the same image as his. You announce that you are attempting make an exact copy of his photograph. Are you infringing his image yet? That depends. Again, would an ordinary person find that you were successful in copying his image to a meaningful degree? Probably not. At a minimum, the trees in the area are different; the weather changes by the moment; and Mr. Adams had a skill that is not easily replicated.

This test is made easier by copyright law. Objects in the public domain or as they occur in nature are not protected by copyright. So shoot away at all of the icons in nature -- you’re not in danger on infringing on anyone’s copyrights. But when it comes to other objects, check these tests to ensure that you’re respecting the copyrights of others.

Take my advice; get professional help.

Mar 7, 2005

It's a Team Effort

After you hire an attorney, your work is not done. You can do a lot to help (or hurt) your case. Since you usually get one shot at winning a claim, here are 10 tips to make the most of your legal challenge:

#1 Be candid. Your attorney can help you more if she knows the WHOLE story, not just the good part or your side of things.

#2 Be truthful. Lies can easily be exposed. Your case will be much stronger when you are honest.

#3 Be responsive. If your lawyer asks you a question, answer it fully and directly. Follow directions from your lawyer.

#4 Be accessible. Your attorney may need to talk with you without delay, so be available and return calls promptly.

#5 Be discreet. Don’t discuss your case with anyone other than your lawyer or her staff. While some information may be disclosed, it can be difficult to know the difference. So it’s best not to talk about any of it.

#6 Be reasonable. While you may have the best case in the world, sometimes it’s better to cut your losses and get on with your life. The court system is designed to solve problems, whether it’s through settlement or litigation. It is not the place to enact vengeance.

#7 Be understanding. Your lawyer has other clients and maybe a personal life. Don’t expect her to drop everything to respond to your every whim.

#8 Be patient. The legal process takes much longer than the hour shown on T.V. Some cases can take years. So don’t expect immediate results.

#9 Be kind. Treat your lawyer, her staff, and the opposing counsel with respect and consideration. They may be more reasonable when dealing with you and your claim.

#10 Be realistic. The big verdict/windfall cases get a lot of publicity, but they are rare. Even with large awards, they must first be used to pay court costs, attorney's fees, expert witness bills, deposition costs, etc.

Winning a case takes much more than just hiring a lawyer. It’s a team effort. Follow these and other sound practices to help your team win.

Take my advice; get professional help.

Mar 4, 2005

Do It Yourself

It's tax time. You've got to start going through those receipts to look for business deductions. You review the forms and read the circulars. But the tax code is complicated. Unless you also are a CPA, you have to consider your options for preparing your tax return.

You can do it yourself. You can fill out the tax forms the same as you did last year. The advantage is that there's no initial outlay of costs. The disadvantage is the time it takes. A risk is that you'll miss some tax breaks. The bigger risk is that you'll report something incorrectly and be fined and/or penalized.

You can do it yourself with some help. You get Turbo Tax, or another tax software program. The program is helpful - it checks your math and prompts you for deductions. The cost is reasonable. But how personalized can a computer program get?

Or you cry uncle. You hire a CPA, discuss your tax situation with her, and organize your files to give her the best information. She prepares your tax return armed with knowledge and experience to give you the most from the tax code. Sure, the upfront cost is more. But so is the return.

It's the same with a lawyer. You can do a lot of your legal work yourself. It will take more time, and you might get it wrong. But you've saved a few bucks upfront. The question then is, what will the costs be in the long run? Isn't your photography important enough to get the best help? So maybe for this one, you shouldn't do it yourself.

Take my advice; get professional help.

Mar 2, 2005

Reproduction Rights

No, this isn't an article about Roe v. Wade. It is about your rights as an author of art. When you own a copyright, you get to:

• To reproduce the copyrighted work;
• To display the copyrighted work publicly;
• To prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work; and
• To distribute copies of the copyrighted work to the public by sale, rental or lending, and/or to display the image.

These rights may be assigned, sold, transferred or given away. But when you assign, sell, transfer or give away any of these rights, the only one that must be done in writing is when you transfer the copyright in total to someone else. You may do the rest verbally.

Imagine the surprise of Duke Prentup when he found that his $100 lithograph purchased from University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill was a mirror image of the famous artist's Thomas E. Mails' pen and ink drawing, "The Mystic Warriors of the Plains." While he likes Churchill's lithograph, he is disappointed. See the story here: News story

The two pieces are so identical, it's clear that the copying was no accident. So the question becomes whether Mails, as the copyright author, gave Churchill permission to prepare a derivative work.

But we may never know. Mails is deceased. His son believes that his father would have not given such permission. Because such permission can be done verbally, there may not be a record to confirm it either way. Unfortunately, the son's opinion won't carry too much weight in court, either.

What should you do in response to this story? Always grant your rights in writing. Make a record of every single one. Make it such a standard policy of yours that after you're gone, everyone will be able to testify that it was your habit to grant all of your rights in writing, even those that didn't have to be. That type of testimony does carry weight in the courtroom. And that may be the only way to protect your work in the long run.

Take my advice. Get professional help.