Keep Your Rights

The law, particularly it seems in the USA, works in mysterious ways, as Jerry Greenburg and other photographers who worked for the National Geographic Magazine have found to their disappointment and cost.

National Geographic re-issued the print magazines containing their work on CD, adding a searchable database, and claimed that this was just a ‘revision’ of the previously published printed work and so photographers were not entitled to any further payment. And they got a court to agree with them.

The legal arguments have continued but seem to now have reached a conclusion with the US Supreme Court deciding that the case isn’t worth them bothering about.

You can read more about the case on the Photo Attorney site, where Carolyn E Wright makes the comment that “photographers now must be clear in their licenses whether a publisher may make electronic uses of their photographs.”

Of course, many of us supply images through agencies or libraries that supply the licences rather than doing so ourselves, or submit work to organisations that impose their own licence terms.  But with these, some photographers have found that the small print in them hasn’t actually reflected what they have agreed with an editor to supply and often have been able to delete or alter them and still have their work used.

It’s important to protect your work when submitting it ‘on spec’ to editors by including with any images your own general licence terms and fees. You can make up a general ‘PDF’ file containing these to attach along with the images to any e-mail, and add a sentence such as: ‘Usage of the image(s) is subject to the attached terms unless other agreement is reached prior to publication.’

One simple way to do it is to use the forms written by the Creators’ Copyright Coalition for ‘Confirmation of Sale, Commission or Submission‘ which are written for use in the UK – and you can download a copy from the NUJ London Freelance site, which also has some very good advice on negotiations as well as an invaluable Freelance Fees Guide.

Of course if you are UK based and 50% of your income or more comes from journalism (including photography) you should join the NUJ if you are not already a member.  Given the increasing problems and threats involved in photographing in public it really does make sense to be in an appropriate professional body, and for UK photographers that means the NUJ

Thinking about copyright, if you put your work on the web yourself, then it is a good idea to put your copyright message on every web page. You can find out all about copyright on the UK Copyright pages, which include a useful page on using copyright notices. (But you can neglect their advice about registering copyright – it is hard to imagine any situation where this would be necessary for photographers – assuming you keep your negatives or shoot on digital andkeep theRAW files. And if you don’t, you should.)

Although when the typewriter was king we got away with using (C) for copyright you should make sure you use the proper copyright symbol ©, followed by the year of publication and your name. It is also useful (and necessary in some countries)  to actually use the word ‘Copyright’ along with the symbol.) If you wish you can also add a statement about rights, such as ‘All rights reserved.’

Some programs used to edit web sites have problems with entering the copyright symbol ©. The ancient version of Dreamweaver I still use messes it up if you try to add it to the ‘alt text’ of pictures in Design view. But if all else fails you can edit your source code with a text editor – even Notepad – and put in either the html code ‘©’ (without the quotes of course) or the unicode ‘!’ both of which should display correctly in your browser.

It goes without saying that your image files should indicated your copyright in the appropriate metadata fields. You can read more about this in the features  Orphans Act – Your images up for Grabs and More on Metadata. Many cameras also allow you to set a message to be added to all the pictures you take – which appears in an EXIF field – and mine currently reads ‘(C) 2008 Peter Marshall’ as the character set available doesn’t include the copyright symbol. But the D300 does also allow me to put my name into a copyright field.

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