Know Your Rights! Here’s How to Protect Your Photos

Photographs can be a great way to generate income.  Some photos can be used in ads, or featured on magazine and book covers.  And if a photo is good enough, its composer can take home cash prizes in contests, not to mention the recognition that comes with it.  But as we know, photos posted online can be easily obtained by others who can claim the work as their own.

With Instagram riling up worrisome photographers with their Revised Terms of Service, it’s more important than ever to know your rights and protect your photos that you willingly (and unwillingly) share online.

If your livelihood is based on photographs, some discourage online posting so as not to lose any potential financial gains.  But posting your photos online doesn’t have to be a wholly negative experience, as there’s a growing number of programs to help budding and even professional photographers protect their works online.  Here’s a few tips and tools to consider.

The Law

The US Copyright Office describes copyright as “a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression,” and it covers both published and unpublished works.  The USCO also states that “Copyright exists from the moment the work is created.”  Which means that the moment you take a photo, the photo is protected under copyright law.  But at this day and age of digital photography, it’s hard to prove that you are the original owner of a photograph, so extra steps need to be taken.

Protecting your photos

Though the law states that your creation is protected by copyright law, it helps that you have proof.  That’s why the USCO advises people to register their creations, as this provides a public record and a certificate of registration so if ever anyone uses your work without your permission, you can actually sue them.

Get noticed

If you want people to know about your photos but want to be protected from devious people who steal other’s works, you can register with Creative Commons, as they help develop, support, and steward legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation.  Photographers get the recognition they deserve, and by licensing their photos they’ll be protected from infringers, and some are even assisted in finding financial opportunities by helping them sell their photos.

Or if you’re one of those artists that can’t be bothered with too many technical details and believe your works should be shared freely with the world as long as you’re credited, you can sign up for I Am CC, a service that automatically releases your photos under Creative Commons license.  I Am CC is a huge help for Instagram users in particular, as it helps people be more creative without having to worry about others illegally using their works for ads or other commercial promotions.

Know your rights

If you want to sell your photos, you need to know your rights so you can make the most of it and you won’t be duped into signing confusing contracts that would leave you without a dime.

Commercial Rights is selling photographs that would be used in marketing or advertising or selling other stuff.  These are photographs used in brochures, magazines, ads and billboards – those that will generate money.

Non-commercial Rights is selling your photos to be used for advertisements that don’t actually generate income, such as church bulletins or events.

First Rights goes to the person who purchases the photo, and will have the rights to use the image before anyone else.

Serial Rights applies to magazines wherein photographs are sold to a certain publication and can no longer be sold to a different publication.  Unless, that is, the photographer only sells First Rights to the first publication, which means he/she can sell the photos to any number of publications.

Non-Exclusive Rights is when two or more parties hold the rights of the photographs.  This is actually tricky, since both parties can do pretty much whatever they want with the content.  So in a contract, this non-exclusive clause is usually followed by restrictions to prevent parties from reprinting or reselling the photos to other parties.

One Time Use Rights means the entity who purchased the photo can only use the photo once, and usually for a specific project.  If the photograph is used in a different project other than what was agreed upon, the seller can sue.

photo credit: nayukim via photopin cc