I have no issue with someone using one of my photos with a credit or link back to my website or blog. In fact, with social media having changed how the Internet is used as a PR tool, it is often encouraged as it raises the profile, and enables myself and other photographers like me to draw attention to new work and publications.
For some reason though, photography is often seen as a "grey area" in terms of where the law stands. After all, it's the model's face; does she hold the copyright? It's a designer's outfit. Do they own the copyright? What about the make-up artist's work. Do they hold the copyright if they've commissioned the shots? The simple answer is no, the copyright of the photograph always lies with the photographer, yet I have had to defend my work, my right to use it, and my right for other people to not use it without citing it as mine time and time again.
The UK Copyright Service clarifies where the law stands in a much more succinct manner than what I could ever hope to.
Who owns the copyright on photographs?With this in mind, I recently found out that a photo shot for a magazine had been reproduced rather widely by the person in the portrait. I had said to the model in question that I had no issues with it being used as I had been paid already by the magazine, but to ensure that it was used firstly after the magazine was off sale and secondly, that it was credited. The first one I imagine was adhered to because they didn't want a team of legal-eagles swooping down upon them from the editor's desk, but there was no thought given to my second request because obviously, I'm "just" a freelance photographer.
Under law, it is the photographer who will own copyright on any photos he/she has taken, with the following exceptions:
In all other cases, the photographer will retain the copyright, if the photographer has been paid for his work, the payment will be for the photographer’s time and typically an allocated number of prints. The copyright to the photos will remain with the photographer, and therefore any reproduction without permission would be an infringement of copyright.
- If the photographer is an employee of the company the photos are taken for, or is an employee of a company instructed to take the photos, the photographer will be acting on behalf of his/her employer, and the company the photographer works for will own the copyright.
- If there is an agreement that assigns copyright to another party.
This also happened last December with The Sun newspaper. One of my dear friends, Lauren at Pocket Rocket Fashion was featured in the newspaper as a blogger of note to watch. And quite rightly too, as she is a brilliant fashion writer, and is the respected go to girl for what's happening at the curvier end of the fashion world. The piece used one of my photos which I'd shot at The Second Floor Studio when we were in the processes of opening, and one which was widely available on her website, but always where it was credited. I was less than pleased to find my image, not just reprinted, but re-edited to fit the column format, and quite frankly, I was furious at the "but none of the other photos in the piece are credited either" attitude. That just means that five other photographers like myself have been completely screwed over. Take the time to look through their website, and you will find that photos from agencies are all credited to the appropriate source. They wouldn't dare to overlook such a thing, as they are fully aware that they would have lawyers knocking on their door, because there are laws in place to protect them. However, the same laws that are also there to protect us can be completely overlooked because there is the assumption that firstly, a freelance photographer is a struggling photographer. A freelance photographer would be grateful to get a photo published. And lastly, and perhaps the most telling, a freelance photographer is unlikely to have the capital to launch a legal tirade against them. And so they get away with it. Again, and again and again.
This has to stop.
My agent emailed them the day that the article came out, to which there was no response. A few days later he launched a second email, to which he got a reply saying
Thank you for your email. This has been passed onto the relevant department for their attention. Should your enquiry require an answer you will be contacted within three working days.
Needless to say, we didn't hear anything back. Our little argument of misrepresentation and copyright infringement wasn't worthy of a response. To add further insult to injury, the text quoted in the article was also from a guest piece which I wrote, which can be found here. I have to stress that none of this was any fault of Lauren's; the text and photos were a copy and paste job from The Sun, and it's just a case of lazy journalism on their part since Lauren was kind enough to write an opening paragraph to the piece, explaining the context of it being written, and who I was.
I don't want to have to watermark every single photo I release, as I don't want to take away from the work that's gone into making it what it is. And I shouldn't have to, since theft is wrong. Intellectual theft, or otherwise.