In this article I will try to cover the basics of copyright and common misconceptions. This is not meant to be the definitive answer to all situations. Copyright law in some cases can be a very complex. If you feel any part of this article is factually incorrect the please contact me directly.
What is Copyright?
Copyright is a legal concept which exists to allow the original creator of a piece of work to be allowed exclusive rights to the piece of work. This piece of work can be a Photograph, a motion picture, a piece of music, a poem, choreography, sound recordings, computer software, graphic design and so on. For the purpose of this article I will be referring to copyrights relating to photography.
When does copyright exist?
Copyright exists as soon as the photograph is taken regardless of it being on film or digitally.
Who owns the copyright?
Copyright is held by right by the photographer who creates the image. In the case where the photographer is an employee then the copyright goes to the employer unless some other agreement is in place. In photography the copyright is held by the photographer who takes the image. Any parties involved in creating the shot, set designers, clothing designers, make up artists etc. and any models who appear in the photograph have no rights whatsoever to the copyright.
How long does copyright last?
Copyright in a photograph usually lasts 70 years from the end of the year in which the photographer dies. This is not automatic as the copyright holder may have left the copyright in his/her will.
Can the copyright be transferred?
The copyright or part of it can be transferred or reassigned to another party freely or for compensation.
For example a photographer taking an image but does not have the ability to mass produce the image, and the means to market and sell the image, may transfer copyright of the image to a company that specialises in that area. The photographer negotiates their own compensation, i.e. a one off payment. Copyright is then transferred with the photographer having no further rights to the image.
In the same situation the photographer may not wish to transfer the copyright but may wish to assign license instead. This gives the company rights to mass produce and sell the image in the same manner. In this situation the company are probably going to negotiate a better deal for themselves. They may not give an upfront payment, they may offer a lower percentage per sale or they may simply refuse the offer as being the copyright owner you are able grant other companies use of the image thus lessening its value to them. It is up to the photographer and the company to decide the terms and conditions of the deal.
The photographer could retain copyright and grant exclusive license to the company, allowing them to mass produce and sell the image in the knowledge that they have exclusive rights to do so. The photographer would usually in this case negotiate a payment for each image sold. The photographer would retain the copyright but would not be able to make the image available to anyone else.
The copyright owner may also state that any works is royalty free granting anyone free use of the image
There are many ways in which you can infringe upon copyright some of which are more obvious than others. If you see an image posted on any part of the world wide web you must assume that it is copyrighted unless it is specifically marked as not copyrighted or royalty free. Examples of copyright infringement include but not exclusive to
- Altering the image or part of the image in any way
- Passing the image off as your own work
- Printing a copyrighted image and selling it on
- Cropping the image
- Pasting the image into part of a larger image
- Taking a photograph of a photograph to recreate it.
Common copyright infringements
This list is not exhaustive and is only representational of the usual infringements found on a website such as this.
- Taking an image from a photographers portfolio and using it on your own portfolio or other website without their consent.
- Editing an image given to you by a photographer.
- Cropping any image given to you by a photographer.
- Removing or attempting to remove or cover a watermark on any image.
- Allowing an image you have been given to be used for commercial gain.
- Selling or permitting use for publication any image given to you by a photographer without their consent.
My tutor said he/she owns the copyright to an image I took while under instruction is this true?
Unless it clearly states this in the terms and conditions of the training course then the answer is no. The tutor may set the shot up, arrange the lighting, meter the shot, tell you what camera settings to use and so on but if you press the shutter, you own the copyright.
I worked on a tf with the photographer so I have equal rights to the image
Wrong. The photographer owns the full copyright to the image. He/she may grant you permission to use the image for your portfolio or in any other way agreed. You may not sell or allow the image to be used for any other purpose without the express consent of the photographer.
The photographer tagged me in the image so I copied it from his portfolio
Wrong, unless the photographer granted you usage rights to the image you may not use the image on your portfolio or anywhere else. In the case of a TF shoot you will have or should have been given usage rights to a specified number of images from that shoot, if you subsequently see another image from that shoot it does not give you any rights to use it without permission.
The photographer did not deliver the images from our tf shoot so I took them from his/her portfolio
No you have no rights to take them from the photographers portfolio. This scenario should never really happen but in the unfortunate event it did you did not receive the images you must contact the photographer for the images. If the agreed number of images do not get sent to you, please report this to admin.
I did not like the shots the photographer gave me so I had them re-edited
Any editing, cropping or altering of an image may only be done with permission of the photographer. Altering any images given to you without permission is not only bad manners and likely to cause upset, it is also in breach of copyright.
What should I do if I see my image being used wrongly?
If you find your image being used in breach of your copy right you can choose to ignore it and leave it be or you can choose to persue it. If you choose to persue it you should take a screen shot of the website hosting the image and a note of the website address itself. In the event of it being in a newspaper or other publication, keep a copy of it. You should then contact the person who you feel has breached the copyright. In the event of a website you can usually contact them in their contact section or find the registered owner of the domain name from http://whois.net/. You can either send them an invoice for the usage of the image and or request they remove it. To get a guide to how much your invoice should be for you can find some information on http://www.nuj.org.uk/home/