When It Started

One of the biggest issues faced by photographers today is the threat of being ripped off. It is unfortunately something which happens constantly, and sadly, often by people or companies who should know better.

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?
Under law, it is the photographer who will own copyright on any photos he/she has taken, with the following exceptions:
  • 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.
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.
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.

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.


  1. I fear that this is an issue that will never be resolved as it's a double edged sword.

    You can't sell your creativity, business or show that you're active without images on your website, yet the internet and rise of the amateur happy-go-lucky shutter-triggerer is whats responsible for the lack-lustre approach to maintaining photographers copyright. Ultimately this is one of the key reasons why I packed it in - I lost commissions & licensing deals as I dared to want to charge for time/usage, when there's always a hobbyist around the block who charges nothing - and more recently why I removed pretty much everything on my flickr from public view.

    I think a good start would be for aggregators like google to pay more attention to such things. When you do a google image search it doesn't pass on your copyright restrictions to the new user, just displays them as a list of great free images ready to use. Similarly if they had paid attention to your copyright restrictions, self proclaimed or via a recognised usage system such as creative commons, then your image wouldn't've even been displayed in their list of search results to begin with. They just have robots indexing sites and everytime they display your image, chances are they're somehow making money from those peoples clicks. You can create a file in the root of your site with a list of images to not index, but trust me, it doesn't work all the time.

    One interesting development I've seen in recent weeks is a system that encrypts an expiry date into selected images, so that no matter where it ends up on a selected date the image will erase and cease to load. It was designed with things such as embarrassing facebook photos in mind, but maybe they've overlooked a fantastic market with freelance & independent photographers. Imagine a system where you publish an image online that has a weekly expiry date, thats automatically renewed for genuine licensed, paid for usage but trashes the file for those who rip it illegally. Maybe that's the start to the solution??

    Sorry for being wordy in my comments, but like you, this is one of those things that constantly irritates and evokes passion in me still! A great little blog Diana. xx


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