Copyright infringement – an interesting article – an important lesson

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Event Photography Blog Entry

I read today an interesting article on the Guardian’s website about copyright infringement. The article contains a letter from a reader who built a website for his sister’s hair salon and rather than hiring a photographer to shoot images for the website, he used Google’s image search to find suitable pictures. The states that he made sure he didn’t use any of well-known models, or images that displayed copyright marks, but clearly he thought that anything else was fair game.

Three months later, the website owner received a bill from the Getty picture library for £950 of “unpaid license fees.” For reasons best known to themselves, the hair salon decided to ignore Getty’s letter – never a smart move – and subsequently received an updated bill for over £1100. The author of the letter felt that Getty were bullying small companies and is quoted as saying that the images were worth “no more than £50 each.” What the author of the letter needs to understand is this: the customer does not get to decide how much the image is worth after they’ve used it. I am sure that the salon owner would take a dim view of a customer having their hair done and then saying “I think that cut was only worth £5!”

Unfortunately, the author of the letter made an all-to-common mistake and assumed that images found on the internet do not have any copyright restrictions on them, unless it is plastered all over the image. This is a complete fallacy. You should always assume that all images are subject to copyright restrictions, unless stated otherwise.

As a working photographer whose only source of income is through the sale of my work, I protect my copyright vehemently. In the past, I have had images copied from my gallery and posted on Facebook, despite them featuring a watermark pointing out the legality of what they are doing. When confronted, the Facebook user tried several different tacks to justify her use of my photos.

1) They were photos of her and her horse, so she owned the copyright. Unfortunately, copyright doesn’t work that way. Under the Copyright and Patents Act 1998 ascribes the copyright of an image to the photographer, not the subject. Thinking otherwise is just plain foolish – it would mean that Tom Cruise would own the copyright for any film in which he features.

2) She was publicising my business. Since my images were all watermarked, she claimed that she was doing me a favour by posting my photos for her friends to see. I wonder if I could use the same defence if I walked out of the Nike store without paying for one of their shirts – after all, I would simply be advertising for them.

3) She had lifted 34 photos and it wasn’t fair to expect her to pay for them all. Really? If a photograph is good enough for you to use on your website of Facebook page, then it is good enough to pay what the photographer is asking for it. If you feel that the photographer is asking too much for the image then don’t buy it, but you don’t have the right to use it anyway!

Some people look on copyright infringement as a victimless crime: it isn’t. I have to pay for my equipment, I have to put fuel in my van, I have to spend time travelling to the various venues where I work, I have to pay my taxes, I have to pay my mortgage – the money for which has to come from the sale of my photos. The venue where I took the photos that this girl lifted charged me a pitch fee to attend – why should someone think that they have the right to use a photograph without paying anything for it?




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