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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Copyright Violations/Rights Grabs: A Cost of Doing Business or A Warning?

As a stock wildlife photographer who is just starting out in the field, I don’t have a whole lot of stock that I consider saleable. What I have is on 500px. And I do my promotion on Facebook and Google+. To sum it all up: I can’t lose my rights to my photography or in essence, give it away for free.

The only problem here is the rights grab that Facebook and Google+ have in their terms of service in order to implement their service to us (their end-users). There is a transfer of rights that when initially looked upon, looks relatively reasonable to the layperson, however when you dig deeper, you begin to see just what FB and G+ have in plan. Facebook’s content is what gives Facebook its value and Facebook plans to capitalize on content value should the need arise. That’s what “contingency planning” is.

And it’s not just Facebook that is doing that. It is photo-contests, magazines like National Geographic (who only give proper rights credit to those it considers accredited photographers who fall under their National Geographic umbrella – makes you think twice about that reader-submitted content and the allure and fame of “getting published in National Geographic” is tarnished, isn’t it? Because when you hand in that beautiful photograph you’ve taken with stars-in-your-eyes, you’ve just handed over your rights to National Geographic in perpetuity and Nat Geo can do whatever it likes with it and you’ve just given away “first-rights” for nothing except maybe a 2 line credit. And a back-handed compliment of “nice photo, don’t call us, we’ll call you”). and photo-editors who want nothing more than "all your rights for free"

As stock photographers, we have to consider our portfolio as our ‘investment in our craft”. We have to consider the contents of our portfolio as potential revenue as well as intellectual property and be prepared to defend it at all costs, because this is our livelihood. The more it is devalued by the buyers who think that we are glorified shutter-clickers, the more likely it is that we lose income by people who feel that it is their right to be able to take whatever they like on the internet. There is a saying “if you’re not prepared to protect it, be prepared to lose it completely”.

My advice to those who are just starting out in the field as I am:

  • a. Protect your copyright, register your photographs. U.S. Copyright Office – Even Canadian Photographers can do this. Also remember to copyright your photos in your home country. For Canada this is: Canadian Copyright OfficeUnfortunately there is no worldwide standard for copyright and in order to establish copyright in every country, you have to register in every country. Protect your copyright – It is your livelihood.
  • Be very wary when you consider social media. Read the Terms of Service Agreement. Be very careful because you could be signing away a lot of rights up to and including link-content. Now I don’t’ know if linked content (when you throw up a link to your web-content (such as your blog) through your FB Wall is rights-grabbed and I would have to defer to the opinion of someone skilled in copyright law like Carolyn E. Wright who administers the “Photo Attorney” site and is a skilled wildlife photographer herself.
  • stick with those magazines or internet sites that don’t try to do a rights grab; look for words like “in perpetuity”, “irrevocably”, “transfer” or “assign”, “fully paid-up”- which is another word for “something for nothing”, “includes the “right to distribute” or “sub-licence”, or “prepare derivative works” or any of your content, when you submit content.
  • Read the contract thoroughly before signing it, make sure you take it to a copyright lawyer in order to make sure that you’re not being fleeced. Avoid verbal contracts (get everything IN WRITING!), Negotiate with an advantage – determine in advance what rights the client needs in order to do what they need to do. Don’t give more rights away than absolutely necessary and make certain that YOU get paid for it. Find creative ways to sub-license your work out to clients that will fit their needs, but retain you your full creative rights. And finally decide whether their terms (if inflexible) are what you’re willing to deal with or walk away from the entire deal altogether. Remember, what you do in this case affects us all.

  • Get a publication such as the “Photographer’s Market”, It is an yearly periodical which gives you an idea of what publications are looking for stock photography. They state their terms of purchase in the publication, what rights they will be willing to buy. However negotiate. Determine your pricing for the licence to reproduce your photos. Do not give any of your rights away.

    For example (from the 2006 Photographer’s Market – “The Bridge Bulletin – monthly publication for tournament/bridge players. “Query by phone. Responds only if interested; send nonreturnable samples, Previously published work OK. Pays $100 or more for suitable work. Pays on Publication. Credit Line Give. Buys all rights.) <- For this one, I would be very careful, as it says “all rights” and are expecting you to give away all rights for a song. Of course, photos of card tournaments are very niche photography and there really isn’t a big market for them. Determine what your future earning potential from your photographs are and determine if you really want to sign away rights for your individual photographs.

    Always negotiate with your client. Make sure that you get the maximum $$$ for your rights if you plan to give away the rights to your photographs (which frankly, in my opinion, is not a very good idea) when you sell them. All rights transferred should net you a substantial sum as you are giving away all rights to further profit from your photograph. Giving it away cheaply makes it tough on the rest of us.

    All in all, your creative rights and copyright are a very important part of your business as a photographer and should not be undersold at any part of the negotiation process to sell your photographs. Your photographs are the source of your income and an investment in your future as a creative photographer. Make the most of it and, above all, protect your rights.

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