When photographers have their work stolen and used by businesses, publications and individuals without permission and in violation of the photographer’s implicit copyright, it is usually the photographer’s fault. It is also the dividing line that separates professionals from amateurs.
Traditionally, the way to protect your work from copyright infringement has been to register it with the copyright office and pursue infringers with the threat of a lawsuit. For some professional photographers, this is actually a profit center. Not for me. I can’t stand the idea of using this method of protecting my work as a way to make money.
Instead, the best way to avoid infringement is not to give anyone the chance. A very successful example of this strategy is music for sale on iTunes. You can listen to a sample, but to hear the whole thing you have buy it. When photographers show work online that is big, has no watermark and no meta data in the image file, it’s ripe for infringement and misuse.
My experience on my own blog has taught me that large pictures should never be posted online. Over the years, I’ve discovered that several images I published early on have been misused. I’ve found some instances of infringement through my Web tracking software. Who knows how many other businesses, organizations and people have infringed my work? This was a mistake on my part, and I’ve learned from it.
I can almost hear the advocates of copyright registration now, arguing that these infringers should be punished. But the reality is that pursuing infringements, for most of us, is a waste of time that diverts our attention from more important things. So I chalk up those early instances of infringement to a learning experience and move on.
Even large media companies are finding out the hard way just how difficult it is to track down and sue people who have essentially stolen their intellectual property, most often in the form of music or video.
The iTunes Approach
So why not, instead, do what iTunes has done?
Showing work on the Internet is an integral strategy for any photography business today. Think of images online as a contact sheet. Size them appropriately.
I don’t post anything larger than 400 pixels. And my slideshows don’t allow the viewer the ability to click through individual images, thereby decreasing the chance that people will infringe on my work.
It’s time to stop whining about copyright infringement and start doing something about it — by tightly controlling the viewing conditions and access to your images online. This is the surest way for professional photographers to profit from their intellectual property while avoiding infringement.
[tags]copyright, photography business[/tags]