Most of you know I'm a retired commercial photographer.
I received some mail this morning in which it was clear a lot of people don't
understand the US Copyright laws regarding the photographs you take.
I'd like to make sure you know.
The very moment you snap the shutter you
have created a legal copyright. That is what the law states. Now,
you need to do a couple of things to perfect your copyright if you ever plan to
sue anyone for stealing your work. But you've created the copyright the
moment you click that shutter!
If you don't perfect your copyright you
cannot sue for legal fees. But you can sue for the theft of your
work. It is in the law. I've won several Federal lawsuits against
people who stole my work. And in one case, they didn't even use my
photograph, they attempted to perfectly duplicate my photograph. They
hired a photographer and three models and made only minor changes to my original
work but the court ruled I still owned the copyright and they paid my original
use fees, all costs, damages, lawyer's fees and were forced to take their ad
campaign out of the magazines they were using. It would have been much
cheaper to just pay my agent the original fee quoted!
So what do you need
to do? You must file a copy of the photograph(s) you wish to perfect with
the Library of Congress. You can get a form from the library. There
is a small fee. You can include as many photos as you can get on a CD rom
at one time and perfect them all at the same time. You also have to
provide hard copies but they can be tiny and all printed on one page.
must put the world on notice the photograph(s) are copyrighted. You do
that by including the copyright seal, your name and the year of your
copyright. Do it like this:
© 2006 Steve Lucas, All
rights protected. You may also use the word Copyright
instead of the symbol (©). Websites are a major problem since people can
easily steal work from any website. But, if you have a website, it is
legally only required to be on the homepage but is best to put the notice with
each photograph. Just be sure and say all images on the site are copyright
protected. it is just like a book. You don't see a copyright on every page
of the book. But don't think because you have not filed the form with the
Library of Congress you don't have any rights. You do!
Now, here is the glitch. If someone outside the US
steals your work about all you can do is send them a notice and request they
stop. The cost of filing a lawsuit outside the US would be much higher
than you would likely ever collect. But don't just let them get away with
the theft. And it is theft. You just aren't likely to ever collect
and the thieves know that!
Anyone whose photographs were stolen for use on eBay should
immediately send a note to the thief and also fill out a form to notify
eBay. You can find the form under "community" on the top of the eBay
page. Even if they stop using your photo, if they have stolen a photo from
you, they will steal it from whomever possible! Stop them!
Julius told me of a major thief who tried to use a bunch of
photos stolen from IAS members in order to sell a CD rom of plants. I
recently had a guy from Indonesia try to buy a bunch of Anthurium photos from me
for use in a "book". I quoted him a "book" fee. I put the entire
terms into a contract and sent it to him to sign. He asked if he could pay
the fee via PayPal and I agreed, but I put the entire terms into the PayPal
invoice. When he paid it I notice he had modified the terms to include use
in a CD rom. I immediately refunded his money and never sent him
anything! That is what he wanted in the first place but tried to use
deception to get it. If my photos had ever gotten onto a CD rom they would
have been distributed to the world and he would have made the money. I
would be out of luck! I've seen far too many professional photographers
for that stunt!
We all have to keep our eyes open for people like this.
Don't let them get away with stealing your photographs!