The answer this burning question with which so many struggle, I have devised these three perfect laws:
- IF I choose to create an image, it is mine.
- IF I choose to share it with you, you may look at it, but it is still mine.
- IF I choose to license it to you, you may use it-according to our mutually agreed upon terms under the constraints of the law of our land.
Else you are using the image illegally and, if I choose, you are mine-or as much of you as the court deems just!
Respect the artists’ copyright.
Rikk Flohr © 2011
Read these words carefully.
Just because something exists in a public domain, doesn’t mean that that something is public domain.
Let me paraphrase.
Just because a picture is posted on a website, doesn’t mean that it is free for all users without consequence.
The World Wide Web came into existence (more or less) on April 30, 1993. You can read the details here. It came into existence by CERN’s release into public domain, the code for a World-wide Web, an Editor and a Browser. By offering these things free, it created the public domain of the internet as we know it today.
The problem comes with things that reside in a public domain. An erroneous assumption has grown that these things are free. They are not. Consider a highway. It is a conveyance for all to use. If you find something on the highway is it free? Let’s put a finer point on the question.
- If you find an unopened candy bar on the road side, would you eat it?
- If you stumble upon an unprotected email, would you read it?
- If you find a wallet with cash and credit cards on the highway, is it yours to do with as you please?
- If you come across a user id and password would you use it?
- If you find a car parked on the side of the road, can you take it as your own?
- If you find a copyrighted picture you love would you claim it as your own?
Which of these scenarios, if acted upon, are crimes?
The Internet is a Public Domain. It is a public conveyance for information.
Items which are considered public domain, are items for which there is assumed no ownership or at minimum public ownership and the usual intellectual property rights do not apply.
Just because an item exists upon or travels through a public domain does not mean it is public domain.
True, the item may be public domain but it is far more likely that it is not.
Rikk Flohr © 2011
As a follow-up to my previous post on borrowing a camera from a fellow photographer and the copyright issues that ensue, I offer the following.
On the Worldesigns Photo February tour of Costa Rica we did a little scouting and found this delicious sunset on the NW Pacific Coast. It was our last night in the country and I realized that I didn’t have a single photograph of myself in Costa Rica. Along with my DSLR mounted on the tripod, I was shooting on Manual with my Canon G10 to get the sunset exposed properly. I realized that all I had to do was pop on my flash (at the appropriate –1 1/3 stop setting) and I would be able to properly expose yours truly in front of a spectacular sunset. The only problem was my arms were too short to shoot it.
I asked a fellow photographer if she would mind using my camera-already preset – to snap a quick photo of me against the sunset. She agreed and I handed her my camera. Then, she pressed the shutter and handed the camera back to me so I could check the shot.
Photo Credit: Laurie Hernandez – Worldesigns Photo
I now have a nice vacation snapshot of me in one of my favorite places. Unlike the previous article, if you look closely, you will see that the copyright notice on the photo didn’t change. Why? One reason, my camera automatically inserts a copyright notice-so does my software. Why didn’t I change it?
Unlike my first scenario in the article: Hand Me Your Camera, Quickly!, this wasn’t a case of someone borrowing a piece of gear to get their own shot. It wasn’t a case of mistaken identity and using the wrong camera. It was a case of a person being asked (contracted if you will) to take a photo-for-hire – in this case, for the consideration of friendship. But, with out her helping hand, the picture would have been for naught. That is why she gets the photo credit. Who owns the actual copyright? No clue.
Now, I am no copyright expert and am not even pretending to give legal advise here. I just wanted to point out the subtle distinctions of copyright applicability in a variety of situations where you may not be using your own equipment to take a shot or someone else may be using your equipment on your behalf.
Rikk Flohr © 2010
In a pinch friends can share many things, up to but not including a toothbrush. Sometimes in the heat of battle (photography) it is necessary to borrow another person’s camera in order to get the shot. When this happens, a curious legality emerges: that of deferring copyright ownership.
Laurie Hernandez, Owner of the Worldesigns Photo which operates the Costa Rica tours where I serve as instructor, and I were walking in Tenorio National Park. A small ground Anole made an appearance on the trail as we climbed the steps out of the Rio Celeste canyon.
Laurie put her foot in its path to stop its running away when it unexpectedly crawled onto her shoe. With her gear stowed in her pack for the climb out and a skittish lizard on her foot she was unable to get a shot. I used my Canon G10 to snap this quick picture showing the Anole displaying his colorful throat-flap. The lizard then scurried off her shoe and onto a rock beside the path. Knowing that she had a much better angle, I passed my camera down the trail to her so that she could get the shot.
If you look very closely at Laurie’s photo taken with my camera you can see something curious occurred… The copyright notice changed! By my ceding my camera to another photographer, the other photographer becomes the copyright holder as the creator of the image. This happened several times over the course of our most recent Costa Rica tour and we, as dutifully-minded keepers of copyright, not only copied the images for the other photographer’s library but changed the copyright notice on the photo as well.
Once during the trip, I was in the passenger seat of the car holding my own camera and another photographer’s similarly configured camera/lens. A bird appeared for photographing and I, by mistake, grabbed the wrong camera and fired away. Now I had copyrighted material on another’s camera. Another image swap and copyright change occurred at that night’s image-editing session.
Whether you are helping out a friend with an inaccessible camera, grab the wrong camera by mistake, or take a picture on behalf of someone, you may be sharing more than just gear. You are sharing the responsibility of ensuring the custody of the copyright and the ultimate ownership of the images-provided the image is of value and worth the effort.
We still have room for a couple more on the April 2010 Tour but time is running out.
Rikk Flohr © 2010
With 2010 looming around the corner, it is time to think about those things that photographers should be doing in advance of the coming year.
1. If you have your copyright date imbedded in your Creator’s Name Field (see link), it is time to change it.
2. Check your Camera’s time stamp. Do your multiple camera’s match up well enough to keep your images in sync?
3. Is the copyright in your DAM software updated? Do your metadata templates reflect the right date?
4. How about that website. Does it say © 2009 still? If so, it is time to think about updating it.
5. What about your accounting software? Are you prepared for the change of year? Have you closed 2009 out?
6. Record the mileage on any of your Photo-related vehicles!
Just a few simple items to check before you bring yourself into the new decade. Wishing you a banner 2010!
Rikk Flohr © 2009 (for now)
Geetesh Bajaj recently interviewed me on the subject of Photography, Presentations and Copyright issues. Geetesh is a Microsoft MVP for PowerPoint ™ and writes regularly in his on-line magazine: Indezine.
You can read the full interview here.
Sometimes passing the camera around creates a sticky copyright situation.
Submitted for your approval, the following photography containing the author of this blog and his photographic idol/mentor, Jim Brandenburg.
Jim Brandenburg and Rikk Flohr
Photo Credit: Heidi Mae Niska
The shot above was taken at the TCACCC 2008 Spring Break event where Jim Brandenburg presented to over 300 photographers. The shot was taken with my camera by Jim’s assistant Heidi Mae. She was kind enough to snap the photo of me with my photo-mentor after the presentation.
My Canons are all programmed to fill in my copyright notice upon capture. Dutifully, my 20D filled in a © Rikk Flohr. Upon extraction from the camera, a more complete copyright was filled in by Lightroom.
Here’s the rub. I didn’t take the picture! Heidi Mae did-with my camera-which automatically applied a notice. So, whose picture is it anyway?
I am not a copyright attorney but I am guessing that it is not quite clear. Was Heidi my agent in shooting the image? Was she a de facto work-for-hire photographer? Is the image mine because I have claimed the ownership or is it Heidi’s by virtue of having snapped the shutter? Sticky wicket, to say the least.
How many of us pass our cameras around and allow others to take photographs-never realizing that we may not own those images? Heidi’s or mine? She gets the photo-credit for sure. I get the pleasure of having the image. The copyright? Who knows?
Rikk Flohr © 2009