Since the dawn of time, creators, writers, artists and anyone that makes something or produces work, have had to deal with people wanting to copy their work or pass it off as their own. Some even want to make a quick buck. So in 1790, the first Copyright Act was signed. This was to help encourage creation. The most recent and current law is the Copyright Act of 1976 and has had two amendments since then. As a photographer, this means so much and it means that I have to educate everyone on what that means to them.
So, I wanted to take the time to share with you my knowledge on the Copyright Law, how it affects you, and what steps you can use to make sure you don’t get caught in a sticky situation.
I want to set the preface that not all photographers treat copyright law the same. Some like to make sure that you know for sure what it means and can even take you to court on it, while others can just ignore it. Don’t let this deter you from working with a certain photographer. Just make sure you are on the same page as them when you do hire one. This post is to simply educate what it is and what can come from it.
What is copyright?
By definition “Copyright is the exclusive legal right, given to an originator or an assignee to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same.” This means that someone who creates something, owns it.
According to the Copyright Society of the USA, “[…] that whenever you write a poem or story or even a paper for your class, or a drawing or other artwork, you automatically own the copyright to it. Copyright is a form of protection given to the authors or creators of "original works of authorship," including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and other intellectual works. What that means is that, as the author of the work, you alone have the right to do any of the following or to let others do any of the following:
make copies of your work;
distribute copies of your work;
perform your work publicly (such as for plays, film, dances or music);
display your work publicly (such as for artwork, or stills from audiovisual works, or any material used on the Internet or television); and
make “derivative works” (including making modifications, adaptations or other new uses of a work, or translating the work to another media).”
In general, it is illegal for anyone to do any of the things listed above with a work created by you without your permission, but there are some exceptions and limitations to your rights as a copyright holder. One major limitation is the doctrine of “Fair Use,” which I later discuss.
What does the copyright law state?
The federal copyright law is called title 17 of the United States Code. It includes all amendments enacted by Congress through June 30, 2016, the Copyright Act of 1976 and all subsequent amendments to copyright law; the Semiconductor Chip Protection Act of 1984, as amended; and the Vessel Hull Design Protection Act, as amended. The Copyright Office is responsible for registering intellectual property claims under all three.
There is a lot that states it, and I am going to try to break it down for you. But if you want to read it in its entire 370 pages of work, you can read that here.
What does that mean?
Ultimately, it makes sure that people that make things (i.e. creators) don’t have their work used without compensation. An example would be to print a photo you didn’t pay for.