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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Copyright In The Digital Age

Know your rights and responsibilities when it comes to the usage of your photographs

Copyright In The Digital AgeYou'd never leave thousands of dollars worth of camera gear unattended on a busy public street. It would be foolish to risk the loss of the very thing that ensures your ability to make a living. So while most photographers take great precautions to protect their expensive cameras and lenses, there are a surprising number who fail to copyright the images that they have created with that same equipment. The theft of hardware can hamper you in the short term, but the non-authorized use or outright theft of your images can have a long-term impact on the success of your business.

With millions of images being transmitted and stored electronically, it never has been easier to get one's images to a client. Yet this same technology makes it just as simple for those images to be used without permission or to be stolen.

Understanding Copyright

The copyright is yours the moment you depress the shutter release button. As the creator of the photograph, you automatically own the copyright. Although there are exceptions, such as when you're working under a work-for-hire agreement, it generally can be assumed that you, as the copyright holder, have the authority to approve and deny the use of your images in any medium, including print and the Web.

The registration of your copyright provides you with the ability to recoup damages and legal costs if and when the dispute over a copyright violation ends up in court.

According to materials provided to its members by the American Society of Media Photographers, the ability to recoup such costs depends on your registration of the images before the occurrence of the infringement or within three months of publication. While you still could file suit, you'd be ineligible to ask for statutory damages or legal fees, thus making a favorable judgment a moral victory rather than a financial one.

Copyright doesn't prevent the inappropriate use of your images, however. It provides you leverage to negotiate with someone who has used your photograph without permission and gives you the legal standing to possibly recoup the expensive costs of litigation when the case lands in front of a judge.

Information on how to register your copyright is available through the U.S. Copyright Office Website. A complete tutorial is available from ASMP's Website (see Resources for more information).

Steps To Register Your Copyright

1. Complete Form VA, available for download from www.copyright.gov.
2. Enclose a $30 check made payable to Register of Copyrights.
3. Include non-returnable copies of the materials to be registered (a proof sheet, CD, DVD or videotape).
4. Mail the materials to the U.S. Copyright Office: Library of Congress, Copyright Office, 101 Independence Ave., S.E., Washington, D.C. 20559-6000.


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