This is a confusing issue and has been for as long as I have been a photographer. There are a few gray areas in the law and what applies to photography does not necessarily apply to other art forms. Now throw in the Internet’s explosion of social networking and your head may explode. There have been a ton of stories about how some hosting companies have allowed usage of images on their site, which calls image ownership into question. Read the small print before you post anything. Many of these companies include clauses in the usage terms allowing them to sell/share your work or have very lax policies about protecting users. I feel this is a poor way of doing business and has diluted the craft in untold ways. The treatment of photography as a commodity that can be abused by anyone is, I feel, the single worst thing that has happened to the craft since its invention.
To protect yourself, register your work. This won’t prevent unauthorized usage, but it will give you more power in the event someone steals your work. In the good old days it was quite a laborious process. You were required to include copies of the work you wished to copyright along with all the paperwork. The process has become very simple: simply go to www.copyright.gov, fill out the forms, and presto it’s done. Be sure to read the links on the registration page, as you may need to register the work in more than one category. This becomes legal government document once you register the work outlined in it, so follow the instructions. There are fees involved and may range according to what you are registering.
This little © symbol has some power. I know many of my colleagues simply add the “circle c” to works they produce and feel this is enough. It would be in most cases. It implies ownership and lets the unscrupulous know to beware. The problem arises when and if your work is used with out your permission. If you have not registered the work in question, you don’t have the right to sue for copyright infringement. If you can prove ownership, you may sue for damages. But, without copyright registration, you will have a much weaker case, and the awards will be significantly less. Click here for a good source of info on this topic. You can also find more information about protecting your copyright on Artist’s Market Online.
Uploading or downloading works protected by copyright without the authority of the copyright owner is an infringement of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights of reproduction and/or distribution. Anyone found to have infringed a copyrighted work may be liable for statutory damages up to $30,000 for each work infringed and, if willful infringement is proven by the copyright owner, that amount may be increased up to $150,000 for each work infringed. In addition, an infringer of a work may also be liable for the attorney’s fees incurred by the copyright owner to enforce his or her rights.
In this environment it a very good idea to take the time to register your work. The incidences of infringement have increased as the access has. So if you want to protect yourself and your work, do it!
As always I welcome your thoughts and comments.