03-14-2012, 05:46 PM #1
We're all obsessed with copyright.. Discuss.
Ok.. I've been wanting to put this out here for a while.. I know a lot of you may want to flame me over this, but instead of a knee jerk reaction, how about a reasoned response?
I want to start a discussion on copyright retention on portraiture and understand why we, as general photographers, are so insistent on retaining copyright for images.
I'm not talking about fine art prints. The kind of thing books and magazines buy up, the kind of thing you see on posters or as backdrops etc. I'm not talking about photos of film stars and so on.
I'm talking about general portraiture. I'm talking about wedding photos and family photos where a client has employed you to take their photo. I fail to understand why we, as photographers, insist on retaining copyright. Imagine this: you take your clients photo. You charge them more, but you explain to them that the extra charge is because you are selling them the copyright to the photos you've taken, and because of that you can't guarantee an income from printing the images. Maybe have two pricing scales, one for copyright retained, and one for copyright free images. What happens? Would you lose money? The client might well ask you to print the photos anyway? Would you lose money from sales? Would you be able to claw that back from charging extra for the copyright free images?
I'm not suggesting that this is always the right way to do things, or even that it's ever the right way, I'm just wondering if anyone has ever considered doing things differently, and if so, how did it work out? If not, why not, or are we all being sheep and doing it because everyone else is?
The thing is, I release my images on Flickr with a reasonably easy to remove watermark these days. It wouldn't take much to crop it off.. The reason I do this is for several reasons.. If someone wants my image for a desktop background, they're unlikely to remove it because it's small and unobtrusive. That makes it free advertising. If someone goes to the trouble of cropping off my watermark, what difference does it make if I never find out? The profits from stock agencies are so unbelievably small, it's really not worth getting all sniffy over, not unless my image goes viral and in which case, my data is still buried in the EXIF, again, free advertising.. sure, you can remove that.. But then that's what someone wants to do, a copyright isn't going to make the slightest difference. So finally, what if someone makes a LOT of money from your image? Well, I'm pretty sure a lawyer can make some inroads there.. And who's to say that they would have made that money from your image if it hadn't been stolen.
What I'm saying is simple.. If we continually chase down copyright breaches, if we chase our clients because they scanned their photos and put them on Facebook, aren't we actually doing ourselves a disservice and giving us a bad reputation that might actually drive customers elsewhere? Who wants to be told that they can't do what they want with photgraphs they paid to have taken? Who knows if some guy on the other side of the world won't see a photo you took and find you through the EXIF data and employ you to take photographs of the area you live simply because they like the work you do,and the photo you took landed in their inbox as a part of one of these viral email that's always going round.
Ok, I've had my say.. Your turn.. Keep it civil please, I'm asking a legitimate question, flaming me is not a legitimate answer.
Last edited by SwissJon; 03-14-2012 at 05:51 PM.
03-14-2012, 06:26 PM #2
I could easily say the same thing for downloading music or movies illegally. If I download a movie to watch at home by myself, and they don't really ever find out about it, have they really lost any money? No...but they didn't make money for their work. And when people make copies of your image, you aren't out any money, but you aren't making any. They get your photo and you get nothing to fund the continuation of making images they people like. What incentive do you have to continue making beautiful images? How will you continue to make a living (as some of us try to do) with no income?
03-14-2012, 06:34 PM #3
The reason photographers have issues with people scanning prints, watermarked or not, for use online is because most photographers charge for that. This is the same reason most portrait/wedding photographers dont assign copyright: You're losing out on potential income.
Put it this way: if I an hired by an actor for headshots, I have two options:
A) Get a sitting fee and artistic fee, and charge for individual prints, retain copyright. I could even sell a print license (at the cost of x prints or something similar) for a period of time (say a year).
B) Get the sitting fee and artistic fee and charge the client for the copyright. At this point I have no claim to the image or any income I may have made in the future.
I'm more likely to get the customer in situation A than B, because the cost of B would have to be considerably higher to be worth my while. It also means that I get a potentially repeat customer in the form of print or licensing sales. It also means I retain control over the image: by selling the copyright, the actor could turn around and re-sell it or re-license it; this can be mitigated by contract verbiage, but it varies.
If we apply this to your scanning example (for FB): If I sell digital files as a separate item, I again have an additional income stream, and additional licensing structure to count on. If the client scans the image (and crops out the watermark), they're preventing me from making the income from that additional license: This is the likely reason why many don't offer full copyright.
The big thing, to me, though, is control: by selling the copyright, you're essentially washing your hands of that image entirely. Yes, that means income, but it also means the aesthetics (with copyright there's little to stop the client from editing it). As mentioned, there are likely ways of mitigating that through the copyright release contract, but I'm no lawyer.
Finally, this copyright-retention structure is something that's standard across the board for creative work. Graphic design, photography, web design, etc etc. It's almost always work-for-hire: licensing. It's just how it is and how it almost always has been. It's hard to break out of that too too much.
03-14-2012, 06:48 PM #4
I can totally understand the retention of copyright where the image is created for no specific audience in mind. Landscape photos usually fit that category, there's a continual trickle of income simply because you own the copyright. You've put the effort into the photos but you've got no guarantee of an income without selling things based on copyright ownership.
My question is simply why doesn't a photographer, when they have a very closed audience, such as a family portrait, not sell the copyright to the person employing you to take their photgraph at the same time as selling them a sitting? Given the choice between two equally good photographers, a and b, photographer a sells you a sitting at $xxx and then sells you prints at $xx dollars per print and makes a big fuss if you dare put a scan of your lovely family portreait on Facebook. Photographer b sells you a sitting PLUS copyright to the photos, they also offer printing services. The price is higher $xxx+$yyy. You can still get your prints printed at $xx per print. But you get a CD to take home and share with your friends. Your friends thn say "Oh.. Those are great.. Where did you get them done?" You tell them and they go get theirs done there too..
What I'm saying is, as a customer, I'd rather pay more for a service and acually own the results, than pay less and not be able to do whatever I wanted with the pictures of my face and my families faces.
I'm really just wondering if we're just being sheep and doing things because that's the way they've always been done.
By the way, your logic is flawed. I've heard from several artists that the only people that gain from music track sales are the record companies, the artists themselves get such tiny royalties, it wouldn't be worth their while doing the work if that was their ownly for of income.. Most of their millions are made from gigs, tours and merchandising.
Last edited by SwissJon; 03-14-2012 at 06:55 PM.
03-14-2012, 06:54 PM #5
Last edited by SwissJon; 03-14-2012 at 06:57 PM.
03-14-2012, 07:11 PM #6
Why would this topic start a flame war? It's hardly that contentious... though it seems from one of your replies that you're seeing things in a very black and white way.
Personally I don't care where my clients print their images. I warn them in advance what can happen, they have the inexpensive option of having me do them, it's their decision. They have a personal use license that covers any personal use options they would conceivably come up with.
There are three main reasons I don't give up the copyright however:
1) As a wedding photographer, images from the day are constantly being hunted by the other vendors... florists, DJ's, bands, catering services and venues. Sometimes they approach me about having access to them, however, sometimes they go straight to the bride asking for copies. I've now included both a written and verbal explanation for this. They're other businesses, and unless they're going to pay me, they don't get to use my work for their promotional purposes.
2) Clients are not allowed to use their images for commercial use or gain, such as entering competitions, or further selling them for commercial use. Would they do that? Probably not, but again, it's outside the bounds of personal use and I'm not comfortable with that, and maintaining the copyright to myself legally reinforces that position.
3) I want to have unlimited options to use the image for myself if I wanted to use them for commercial purposes, if there was a situation that allowed it. I do not want to have to ask permission from the client to do so because I relinquished those rights needlessly.
I could probably come up with other scenarios, but those are the main three.
If you have a well crafted license (that spells out what they can do and what they cannot do), you don't need to give up the copyright, as it covers anything they could legitimately want to do without shooting myself in the foot.
Last edited by Niresangwa; 03-14-2012 at 07:15 PM.
03-14-2012, 07:16 PM #7
I see what you're saying, Jon. I've thought about it a few times myself.
I shoot mainly children and babies, and I always keep the copyright. The main reason behind this is all the "cutest baby" contests out there. You now the ones I'm talking about, where you can enter a picture of your child for a chance to win $100, or free diapers, or some other such prize. Except that the majority of these contests are complete rights grabs.
A lot of parents think they've got the cutest baby ever to grace the earth, and will enter the portraits I took of their child into these contests. I keep the copyright because I don't want to see my photo in some marketing campaign or being used by a company and I'm not making any money off of it or even getting any credit.
It happened to me once, where a parent entered and won, and I found my photo on flyers posted all over town, and the mom was given credit for it! I contacted the company and told them I was the copyright holder, and rather than actually paying for the photo, they took it down and replaced it with some other contest "winner".
03-14-2012, 07:23 PM #8
I think that like these industries, you're probably not going to find a 100%-secure solution that doesn't also end up alienating some of your best customers. We're probably going to see people experimenting with pricing and licensing for a while, too, in an attempt to see what works -- witness Louis CK and his direct-to-consumer experiment. I think the photography industry has a little longer to figure this stuff out compared to music & video, but it can't hurt to start thinking about it.
03-14-2012, 08:11 PM #9
In the film days it was easy to maintain your images (customer gets the prints you keep the negative) these days even if you don't give the customer a digital copy with the quality of scanners and software they can make their own prints. If you own the copyright to the image and happen upon it in a magazine or some other form of published material than you need a lawyer. If they post it on facebook or some other social network thing I personally wouldn't have an issue with it. (low quality and small size) it is much harder to control the images you make these days unless you are diligently scanning any and all places it could show up or just be very lucky. I personally don't have time for all that.
Point is without keeping the copyright if your image is mangled or reproduced and sold to a third party for whatever reason you can't do anything about it.I shoot for me - I shoot for fun.
03-14-2012, 08:42 PM #10Dont change this!
- Join Date
- Jan 2010
- Hampshire, UK
I do think there is always going to be an interesting debate here.
As you all have probably guessed, im not a professional photographer, I do it for fun. I see things from the other side of the fence however, having directly hired people to take my photo, and having people take photos of my baby and even myself as I was growing up for commercial reasons.
There are two issues here for me, and that is the fairly persistant idea that the images a photographer takes are theirs to do with as they please and for them to make money out of them, again as they see fit. Both are flawed from my perspective:
If I am the photo, then this is a give and take relationship. I pose for you, you take my photo. I pay you money, you give me prints. Without me there is no photo, no print and no money. Without you there is no photo and no print. I would expect to pay a price that is an appropriate value for the work undertaken.
The only financial gain to be had from this relationship should be from me the client to you the provider of service.
As soon as you start to deviate from this (without prior agreement) this is when people will fall out.
So its not ok for me to scan in a photo for facebook, but its fine for you to use my photo for publicity on your website? Well ok, so you charge extra for people to be able to upload their photos... well guess what, I charge for you using my image as publicity......oh no wait I cant do that because your contract with me is full of double standards.
It is a double standard, and I think that is what pisses people off.
I dont think its really the 'absolute' copywrite that is the issue, its the contract that binds how the photographer can use the photos in a multitude of beneficial ways and severely limits how the purchaser/poser/mum and dad can use the photos.