Pragmatism Vs. Taking A HardlineWhen it comes to discussing copyright infringement online, it's very easy to jump on extreme sides of the debate, but a large number of photographers are exploring the gray areas between these extremes. The most common scenarios people are experimenting with to enforce their copyrights is in Scenarios #5 and #6 noted earlier. Ultimately, deciding how strictly to enforce your copyrights is subject to the nature of your business and your personal comfort online. If you're unsure of how to interpret online legalese or how to decide to move forward, in general, it's best to consult with a lawyer familiar with intellectual property and copyright law.
As you evaluate the gray areas of copyright use and/or enforcement, it's important to challenge your thinking about copyright law and online content use. Even if you don't shift your opinion in the end, at least you'll have had a chance to reconfirm your opinions by exploring alternative approaches. As history has proven, there's no one right approach.
Given photographers now can market and interact with fans and clients directly via social-media websites and blogs, it's important to remember how far we've come in such a short time frame. Photographers, videographers and general content/media consumers are all still learning and adapting. While copyright laws haven't shifted, there may be acceptable uses of your intellectual property to further your business goals that technically may fall under the current umbrella of infringement. Embracing low-level infringement, such as a fan sharing your photos online, may open doors, introducing your work to new fans and/or clients outside of your existing network. In essence, your fans become an extended arm of your marketing effort. In such a scenario, embedding metadata and watermarks with your contact information, such as a website address, turns your web-optimized images into business cards.
Of course, to those who see any unauthorized use as infringement, "fans" in my example are seen as nothing more than infringers. For those with this mind-set, the question becomes how much time and how many people are you willing to track down in order to stop the infringement? How much money do you think can be recouped through penalty versus extension of good will to fans who want to share your talent? This, of course, assumes that these "fans" are individuals with noncommercial intentions versus businesses where a photographer may have an easier time working out a retroactive license or seeking damages. Triaging infringers is now a necessity to balance time, effort and opportunity cost.
Social media has become a catalyst to cultural shifts that have forever changed the landscape by which people view and share photography. A healthy dose of pragmatism could go a long way. Rather than sticking to a strict interpretation of existing copyright laws, ask yourself how well this approach may play out in one, five or 10 years versus taking a more explorative or pragmatic approach to copyright enforcement.