A couple of weeks back, someone brought up the question of preventing someone else from taking your photos without permission, (copying the image off of the web). One of the easiest ways to do this is by first, making sure the image is in the right format for screen resolution, 72-96 dpi and the size does not exceed standard monitor size, 800 dots or pixels along the bottom, no more than 600 dots (pixels) tall. More on that later.
Let’s get the legal garbage out of the way. I am not a lawyer and what follows is not given as the final say in legal advice, but a set of guidelines to help you narrow down your understanding of how this stuff works. If you are going to sell your work commercially or copyright your work, take the time to get a firm understanding of model releases, compensation and copyright. There are lots of easy-to-understand books out there on the subject. Last, but not least, to get the final say talk to an, ugh, lawyer to get the final say on copyright law in your area.
The rules for copyright are pretty straightforward, if you take the image, and have the human subject’s consent, and the image is not of someone else’s property, you then legally possess that image. In the world of business photography, before you can sell an image to a stock photography company, you must have a model release. If you can clearly make out a person’s identity in the photo, then you are going to need a model release. Basically, this is just a written agreement that the photographer has the right to sell the image. In the U.S., all that is required is that the model or person being photographed receive compensation for the image. Compensation is loosely described as anything the person agrees to for the picture. This compensation can be as little as a copy of the picture, a couple of dollars or the agreement to work for the model as an indentured servant for the next twenty years. Okay, I made the last one up, but I think you get the point…
Now, we move on to location releases. The U.S. has required photographers to get consent for architecture isage since since the 1970s. So, if you take a picture for publication and you include that lighthouse in the background, you could owe some money to the lighthouse people on down the road without the proper location release. The reasoning behind this is pretty straightforward, a building is considered art, you would like to be paid for someone commercially using your art/pictures, they would like to be paid for someone commercially using their art, (building design).
Last but not least, there is the subject of artwork, an image can be used as part of a picture, but cannot be directly reproduced in the image without the consent of the artist. If the picture is of your Cousin Jethro picking the nose of the coffin in the King Tut exhibit, you’re probably going to end up in court. If you take a picture of your cousin Jethro in an unidentified hallway with 5 or 6 pictures hanging on the wall and the pictures are not the central subject of the image, you’re probably going to be safe. Rule #1: Pay attention to the background and the details in your pictures. Okay, now that we’ve gotten all of the ground rules straight, and you’ve done your homework, the image is yours to sell…
My next post will cover exactly how to apply your mark to an image. I just had to lay a little groundwork first. Once again, this does not constitute legal advice, but a general guideline to help you understand the framework for owning an image. Courts change opinions from one county to the next, one state to the next and one country to the next so do your homework.
Speaking of getting the consent of your models, in a lot of locations around the world since 911 especially, people with cameras are being perceived as a security threat. I can play devil’s advocate and understand both sides of the issue on this particular point. And have had my share of arguments/discussions with law enforcement on this subject. That’s the beauty of living in the United States of America, you can respectfully disagree with a law enforcement officer and make your case without fear of being beaten down and hauled off to rot in jail somewhere. I might tell a story or two on that later…
A freind of mine recently travelled outside the US, (to Juarez), which believe it or not is part of Mexico, which is a foreign country, (for the moment), and realized he was doing a bad thing when Mexican policemen started giving him very dirty looks for taking their pictures as he was driving by. Fortunatle, dirty looks were the only reminder he received during his travels and he has a pretty good understanding of why that’s not a good idea.
Remember, government buildings, government officials performing their duties and essential infrastructure, (energy, financial or commercial) is probably going to mean you’re answering questions later. Be smart and be safe.