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Protecting Photograph Copyright Online

Monday, 21 January 2013

Protecting photograph copyright online has become a major issue for independent photographers. Photograph copyright, like any other intellectual property right, has been severely tested by the Internet as the digital revolution made copying almost any form of media easy, even for amateurs. The power of large websites such as Instagram to suddenly change policies in their favour can also leave individual creators feeling impotent.

Inevitably the wealthiest copyright holders such as film studios and record labels have put up a strong fight against perceived copyright infringers, lobbying governments and challenging the most prolific abusers in court. Famous examples include early peer to peer file sharing services such as Napster which faced considerable legal challenges; Napster was sued by the Recording Industry Association of America, amongst others, under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Smaller copyright owners face significant difficulties protecting their work from proliferation on the internet. Independent photographers have had a particularly tough time preventing their work from being re-published without recognition or payment the moment they have posted it on a website.

Photograph Copyright – the Law

Copyright law operates in a similar way whatever the medium of the copyrighted material. It gives the creator of an original work exclusive rights over that work for a specified time period. Original work requires that a degree of skill, labour and judgement have gone into the creation of that work. Other than granting the right to copy that work, copyright gives the creator the right to determine who else may copy it, perform it, adapt it or benefit financially from it. Copyright also gives the creator the right to have their work attributed to them.

All of the above applies to the work of independent photographers and they have the same legal recourse as other copyright owners when it comes to protecting their work and their livelihood. Given that the costs of protecting copyright fall to the owner, this might not always be the most practical approach to protecting individual photographs.

Protecting Photograph Copyright Online – Practical Measures

Although we would never advise photographers to entirely rule out protecting their copyrighted work with legal measures, prevention is often better than cure. Technology may have caused some of the greatest difficulties when it comes to protecting copyright but it is also likely to provide some of the best solutions.

One recent development comes in the form of an app, the Marksta app, created by photojournalist John McHugh, which enables photographers to watermark their work with a logo or text, such as their name, before sharing it on social media sites or publishing it to online directories. The Marksta app and similar developments could go a long way to helping photographers prevent online copyright infringement before it takes place, reducing the potential stress and costs of pursuing abusers through the courts.

If you need assistance to ensure your intellectual property rights are well protected, Rollingsons has experienced lawyers who can assist you. For more information please contact James Crichton via e-mail or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.