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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Stop, Thief!

Strategies and methods for protecting your work and maintaining proper attribution

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This Article Features Photo Zoom

Here are two ways to put your brand on your images. Lepp's preferred method places a standard copyright notice in a lower corner; it's a little risky because an image thief could crop it off. Some other photographers prefer the image-dominating copyright symbol in the center of the frame, which definitely protects the image from both duplication and enjoyment.
Put Your Stamp On It
It's way more fun to talk about a creative stamp, as in a unique photographic style and interpretation that's identifiably yours, but in this case, we're talking about something more concrete and nerdy: EXIF data. Just about every digital image file has data attached at the moment of capture; it records the camera and lens used, focal length, exposure, ISO. Many cameras offer the option of entering additional routine data—such as the copyright holder—at capture, as well, and some even allow automatic recording of GPS location and manual entry of other data by the photographer.

If ownership data isn't entered in-camera, good practice dictates adding it (this can be done automatically or, with many files, en masse) when images are downloaded from the camera or phone into an editing program, such as Adobe Elements, Lightroom, Photoshop, Apple Aperture and others. We used to believe with some certainty that this information, the EXIF data, permanently stayed with the image file through format and software changes, wherever it went. We could be sure that any company that wanted to use the photograph could immediately access the ownership information and contact the photographer to make him/her rich when the fabulous creation was used in an ad. In this context, we could view "exposure" (as in, "I can't pay to use your image in my blog, but it will give you exposure") in an optimistic light, and work hard to get our images out there anyhow, anywhere—on Facebook, Flickr, Google+. Alas, this assumption is no longer valid. EXIF data is routinely stripped by some sites that post our images with our permission (e.g., Facebook) and by individuals who take our images without authorization via screen capture or unauthorized download. One way to limit the use of your images by thieves is to post only small files on public sites—about 300-400 pixels on the longest side and 72 dpi.

A less technical (and far less subtle) way to protect yourself and your photographs is to imbed a copyright notice right into the image, like a brand on a heifer. The placement of the notice (which includes a copyright symbol ©, name and year) is up to you. Some photographers blaze it in semitransparent fonts right through the center of the image; I prefer to put it somewhere that doesn't destroy the image's reason for being, so usually it's in a corner. While placements at the perimeter can be cropped out quite easily, the very act of removal is quite convincing evidence of intent to defraud, a plus in subsequent litigation. I've also seen photographers simply add a large "©" smack in the middle of the image; I'm not sure what legal or attribution benefit is achieved there, but it certainly does scream the point: This image is claimed by someone and, therefore, it isn't yours to take.

If you want to take more specific action to protect your work, I recommend the blog, DVDs and other training developed by commercial photographer Jack Reznicki and attorney Edward Greenberg at www.thecopyrightzone.com. For copyright registration with the U.S. Copyright Office, see www.copyright.gov. Another option that isn't available to everyone is the placement of images exclusively with a traditional stock agency; as partners who market, license, grant rights and receive the lion's share of the profits, agencies have a vested interest in protecting represented photos, and the power to locate and litigate against unauthorized use.


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