WestLord & Associates

Protecting Photographs from Copyright Infringement Online: What Photographers Need to Know

In the digital age, photographers face unique challenges when it comes to safeguarding their creative works from copyright infringement. This article explores the fundamentals of copyright protection for photographers and provides insights into how they can protect their photographs from unauthorized use online.

Photo by Matt Roskovec

Understanding Copyright for Photographers

Copyright law grants photographers the exclusive rights to use and reproduce their photographs. This protection extends to all original works, including photographs, paintings, writings, and more. Essentially, any work created or first published after January 1, 1978, is automatically protected by copyright. However, even some works created before this date may still be protected.

It’s important to note that copyright is federal law and is consistent throughout the United States. Moreover, the United States’ participation in international copyright agreements ensures that copyright protection is effective worldwide.

Copyright grants creators the power to control how, when, and where their work is used or copied. This control is fundamental to preserving the integrity and value of creative works.

Automatic Copyright Protection: Photographers often wonder how they can secure copyright protection for their photographs. The good news is that copyright protection is automatic. It begins the moment a work is created and fixed in a tangible form. This means that as soon as a photograph is taken and saved, whether digitally or on film, it is automatically copyrighted. There is no need for formal registration or paperwork to establish copyright.

While registration with the U.S. Copyright Office is not required for copyright protection, it offers several advantages:

  • Public Record: Registration creates a public record of the copyright.
  • Legal Action: It is a prerequisite for filing a lawsuit for copyright infringement.
  • Statutory Damages: If registered within three months of publication or before an infringement occurs, the copyright owner can claim statutory damages and attorney’s fees in a legal dispute.

What Constitutes Copyright Infringement?

Copyright infringement occurs when someone uses or copies a copyrighted work without permission from the copyright owner. This violation encompasses various forms, including the unauthorized use of photographs on the internet.

It is crucial to understand that illustrations or photographs used on the internet must be licensed for such use. Removing or altering copyright information, including watermarks or metadata, is also a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Penalties for copyright infringement can be severe, ranging from monetary damages to covering profits earned from the unauthorized use, as well as attorney’s fees. Courts may even order the destruction of infringing copies.

  • Protecting Photographs Online: Photographers can take several steps to protect their photographs from copyright infringement online:
  • Assume Copyright Protection: Assume that all works on the internet are protected by copyright and should not be used or reproduced without permission.
  • Seek Licensing Agreements: When using someone else’s work, seek permission through licensing agreements. Written agreements are preferable but not always necessary.
  • Provide Attribution: When using copyrighted works with permission, credit the creator or copyright owner. This can help build goodwill and may lead to more opportunities.
  • Use “Fair Use” Carefully: Familiarize yourself with the concept of “fair use,” which allows limited use of copyrighted materials for specific purposes. Ensure that your use falls within fair use criteria. Use smaller, lower-resolution images, like thumbnails, rather than full-size high-resolution images.
  • Link to Sources: Instead of copying or using copyrighted content directly, provide links to the source, giving proper credit.

In conclusion, photographers should be proactive in understanding copyright law and how it applies to their work in the digital realm. While copyright protection is automatic, registration can provide additional benefits. By respecting the rights of others and seeking permission when necessary, photographers can protect their photographs and avoid potential legal issues related to copyright infringement.