A Word on Copyright

Imagine you were visiting someone’s home and you noticed every piece of furniture or decoration had a tag reading, “property of —-, do not remove!” You ask your host why the tags and he responds, “if I didn’t have those tags people might think it was OK to just take my stuff!”

Of course you don’t have to tag your belongings to make it clear no one may legally take anything without your consent. Anyone who does take any of your stuff without your permission is guilty of theft and may well end up in jail. The thief could not defend himself by claiming nothing said he couldn’t take what he did.

I notice so many photos on Flickr with stern copyright warnings.  These warnings are unnecessary. Anything you post to Flickr is protected by copyright law. Unlike the old days, it is not necessary to post the copyright symbol or any statement the image is copyrighted. Other than Flickr, no one has any right to use you Flickr images without your consent (unless you grant a creative commons license). 

While legally powerful, copyright law is actually mostly impotent  to prevent the unauthorized use of your image. I recently found an image of mine on a Japanese web site (not speaking Japanese, I had no idea why my photo was there!) What was I going to do — hire a lawyer in Tokyo? As a practical matter it was virtually impossible to take any action. 

I only sell a handful of images a year. Since I don’t make my living taking or selling photographs I take a rather laid back attitude toward my photos being stolen. If I do find one on another site I will complain and demand my photo be removed, but I don’t usually follow up on my threat. It’s just too much trouble. It would be about the same as trying to get the police to find and prosecute the person who stole my ten dollar hat.

If I was a professional photographer trying to sell my work I would not post on Flickr at all. I would only make my inventory available through a licensing authority (stock company). Let that company police my work and handle the business details (just as BMI and ASCAP do for musicians and composers). 

All too often, I’m afraid, posting an image on Flickr is like leaving you car parked downtown at night with the keys in the ignition: a sign on the door reading, “don’t take my car,” would do little good…

Read all of VISIONS

One Response to “A Word on Copyright”

  1. Very nice blog on copyright. While it’s true that copyright is protected by law a reminder is another positive way of trying to steer proper usage. You should try another service called Youtils (http://www.youtils.com) that allows you to measure how users are using your images online. Maybe you can steer that Japanese website to at least provide you with usage information through the service if they are publishing your images 🙂

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