Photography is an art – but it is easily misinterpreted by consumers as freely available, even though images are protected under US copyright law. Because of this disconnect, a consumer who would never consider pirating a movie, making copies of a published pattern or book might freely violate your copyright when it comes to photos. Educating your customers about fair use of your images and marking your images correctly can help prevent both inadvertent and outright theft of your hard work and livelihood.
Understand your Rights
According to the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) your photos are protected by copyright from the moment of creation. The second you compose your image and save, print or snap it, it is protected under US Copyright law.
Educate your Customers
Make sure you include a copyright notice on every contract and every order; a stamp or sticker on the back of your prints and proofs will prevent them from being copied at many photo developing locations, including Walgreens, Target, Staples and most other big box stores.
Including a gentle reminder about copyright and the correct way to order images will thwart all but the intentional copyright or image thieves. In most cases, the actual copyright symbol and your name and information is enough to at least make consumers pause before they copy. Including your contact information does more than thwart thieves, it allows customers an easy way to get in touch if they need additional prints or sessions, too.
Education is particularly important if you do family or kid’s portraits – the buyers are not purchasing for business use and may not understand that the fee for a sitting does not cover the fee for the prints. A contract that clearly outlines all of the details of the arrangement, including your copyright of the images and the correct, legal way to order prints is a must in this situation.
Identifying your Images
Make sure any image you post online has a copyright notice; including the copyright symbol, date and your name. This information serves as a reminder that the photo actually belongs to someone. You should also include your Copyright Management Information (CMI) somewhere on the image or in the metadata to better protect your photos. This information is useful if you need to request that an image that is being used without permission be removed from a site via a DCMA takedown notice as well.
Protect your Online Images
- Images that are for sale online can be posted with a watermark that makes them less tempting to photo thieves. Once the photo is purchased, you can provide a watermark free image to the buyer.
- Using a paid service that allows you to post your images for sale but protects them from being downloaded illegally can help protect your images as well.
- Avoid sharing the original, full resolution photo; instead, share one that is looks fine online but is not high quality enough to print.
- If you post images on your own site, prevent right clicking or “save as” so visitors can’t simply collect the files they like without paying for them.
Educating your customers and the people who peruse your photos online and correctly marking your photos can help ward off theft. Taking the time to learn about your rights as a creator and how to protect your images from theft can prevent losses and help you build your photography business, too.