By Joe Naylor, President and CEO of ImageRights

 Photo by Fabian Irsara

The internet and social media are unparalleled platforms to promote your work, but can also make it easy for people to steal your images. Understanding the importance of copyright law and what to do if you fall victim to infringement is something every photographer should know. Armed with a basic understanding of what you need to know when it comes to your rights, this guide will help keep your work protected online.  

What to Know About Copyright

– The first thing to know is that the second you take a photo, you own all rights, including the copyright rights to it. Unless you shot the photo on the job for your employer or explicitly assigned the copyright rights in the work to a client you were doing a shoot for in a written contract, then you are the copyright owner of the work.

– Copyright laws have not been an effective deterrent to the widespread theft or misappropriation of works online. In fact, there are many businesses, if not industries, in which infringement is strictly a cost of doing business: will they profit enough from the illegal use of the copyrighted photos more than the potential settlement payments they may have to make if they get caught?

So, what should you do as a photographer to put yourself in the best position you can to protect your copyrights, your business and livelihood as a photographer?

Register Your Work With the United States Copyright Office

The U.S. is unique in that encourages registration of all creative works with the Library of Congress by providing creators the option to pursue enhanced damages should their registered work ever be infringed. Key points to know about registration include:

– To qualify for enhanced damages, the work must be registered with the USCO within three months of initial publication or prior to the start date of the infringement for a given claim. Enhanced damages include statutory damages of up to $150,000 per infringed work plus recovery of the costs of your attorney’s fees.

– You do not need to register your work to pursue an infringement claim directly, but U.S. citizens must register their work with the USCO before they can file a copyright infringement complaint in federal court.

How Does USCO Registration Impact Your Options to Pursue a Claim?

Presenting your USCO certificate for the infringed photo can help you overcome a lot of obstacles when trying to negotiate a settlement, namely that it is proof that you are indeed the copyright owner. It also sends the message that you’re able to file a complaint with the court should it come to that. The difference in settlement is contingent on whether or not the image was registered in a timely manner.

– If the image is registered but not registered timely, then the copyright holder can file a complaint and pursue actual damages and a disgorgement of profits. However, these damage amounts can be all but impossible to quantify when you’re dealing with online infringement, as opposed to, for example, a product that a company sold millions of units of with your photo on it.

– With registered timely claims, your leverage in the settlement negotiation is much stronger, as you can then pursue statutory damages and attorney’s fees, which is key to finding a good copyright attorney to take on your claim. Attorneys are much less likely to take on a claim if there are minimal actual damages available to pursue and they have no mechanism for recovering their fees from the other side.

If Your Photos Were Stolen…

If you find your work being infringed and want to pursue some type of compensation for that unauthorized use, you should NOT do the following, as these actions are likely to undermine you if you ultimately need to seek legal representation.

– Send an invoice or issue a demand via email or over the phone.

– Call them out on social media.

Instead you should:

– Capture as much evidence of the infringing use as you can, including screenshots of websites and social media posts.

– Present what you’ve collected to either a copyright attorney or one of a growing number of copyright enforcement services, which may be able to take the claim on directly or through a copyright attorney with whom they have partnered. Either way, they should be able to quickly assess your claim and present your options.

Understanding your rights is critical to protecting your work and not losing out on revenue opportunities. Companies like ImageRights are great resources for professional photographers. They provide excellent tools and services to help both protect and enforce your copyrights, including recovering compensation and more.

Visit ImageRight’s Website to learn more about how to protect your work.