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Intellectual Copyright – What is considered ‘stealing’?

Image: get used to it...guestographers are here to stay!

get used to it...guestographers are here to stay!

Man, oh man. The battle is raging over on this post from last week where I brought up the topic of other cameras at sessions and events you have been paid to photograph. One of the main themes of the comments has been the fact that I used the word ‘stealing’ when describing other photographers shooting over your shoulder at weddings. First, I have to apologize and acknowledge that some readers might be new to reading my posts and not be familiar with my voice. When you get to know me, you’ll get to know my larger than life, sarcastic writing style. But it has brought up an important topic for us to explore: when talking about intellectual property, where do we draw the line? What is considered stealing?

Let’s start with a word many of us will know: plagiarism. When I was in university, it was very clear that plagiarism would not be tolerated. The professors claimed to have a computer that they could pop your paper into and it would scan the WWW and tell them if we stole our text or bought it on a website. But even more scary was the fact that even repeating an idea that wasn’t originally our own, without citing the source, was considered plagiarism. So there we have it…it’s generally accepted by the intellectual powers that be that you can, in fact, ‘steal’ an idea.

Plenty of court cases have been won on this bases. Riffs of music that sneak their way into a chart topping song, concepts for a film stolen from their mastermind and made into a movie. Plenty of things that only exists in the realms of intellect can be ‘stolen’. With the invention of computer programs for editing our photography, there’s a whole new world of things that people can claim they invented. Which begs the question: can a Lightroom preset be protected by copyright? Can it be stolen? How about camera settings? Can I say “I own f/5.6, 1/250th, ISO 200 and you better not use it!” Certainly not!

Back to the post from last week…it was said that readers should make a mental note to never hire me based on what I’d written. Which, I have to say, is hurtful. I feel that many readers didn’t understand what I was saying. I did a wedding on Saturday (as all those comments were rolling in) and thoroughly enjoyed interacting with all of the guestographers. We did a group shot from the balcony and I had all of the guests pick up their camera and take a picture of me which was fun. I won’t say that it didn’t upset me that I couldn’t get a shot of the bride walking up or down the aisle without someone leaning out into the aisle with their camera, obstructing my shot. But I made the most of it and in the end, the images are a great representation of what the day actually felt like and, hey…there were lots of cameras. These days, we’d better get used to it.

Intellectual Copyright - What is considered 'stealing'?But I do have an example of when I feel it would have been inappropriate for a guest to ‘steal’ my idea. I brought my little heart chalk boards so that guests could write the couple a message to be included in their album. This was a surprise for the couple. I allowed guests waiting in the reception line to step out of line for a shot with the message boards. Now, this was completely my idea. I’m absolutely certain it’s been done before, but I haven’t personally seen it. I didn’t notice any cameras in my space while I was doing this, but I would not be happy if someone was behind me shooting my idea and then posting it on the couple’s FB wall, ruining my surprise to them. This is a time when I am absolutely certain that coming in behind me, shooting over my shoulder, would have felt a whole lot like plagiarism and, yes, even ‘stealing’.

In short, anything taking place in public at a wedding is pretty much free for anyone to come in with their camera. But what I can’t allow (and what I was talking about in my previous post) is the shots that are meant to be happening in private or are clearly the brainchild of the photographer. To flip it on its head, it works the same way around…if a guest sets up a shot, we shouldn’t be stealing their thunder either. In short, the best way to keep these things private is to do them in private. I didn’t think of it before, but the next time I try the chalkboard messages, I’ll just take it around the corner where no one will be shooting over my shoulder.

Thank you to all of our lovely dPS readers. I started my photographic education here and feel really honoured to have a voice as a contributor now, just a couple years later. Thank you, thank you!

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Elizabeth Halford
Elizabeth Halford

is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

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