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10 Ways for Photographers to Protect Their Copyright - PPA Today

10 Ways for Photographers to Protect Their Copyright

Copiers, scanners, screenshots and printers...oh MY! These days it's all too easy for your clients to use the available technology to reproduce your work. It may feel like you're fighting a losing battle, but you're not alone. You're a member of PPA, and we are staunchly in your corner with all the copyright information you need to protect your images. We're here to educate, advocate and, if necessary, help you litigate.

What Can You Do?
Remember: Copyright is a property right. Under the Federal Copyright Act of 1976 (effective January 1, 1978 and amended when the U.S. joined the Berne Convention in 1989), your photographs are protected by copyright from the moment of creation. 

You are the first line of defense in your copyright protection. We are here to support you, but we also encourage you to take some simple steps to strengthen your position. We asked Maria Mathews, Manager of Copyright and Government Affairs at PPA, to help explain 10 ways you can protect your copyright:

1. Mark your images as copyrighted
This can be done on the front or back of a print, and you can either watermark a digital image or embed your copyright in the metadata. While it is not required by law (your images are protected from the moment of creation), it is a wise step.

Even though it's no longer required by law, don't risk "orphaning" your images for the sake of aesthetics. One of the best copyright reminders to clients and retailers alike is seeing your name or studio logo.

2. Let people know how to contact you
PPA Members may use their Member ID number and PPA's number, 800-786-6277. We regularly help consumers find the creator of an image.

No matter how rooted your business is, making yourself as accessible as possible will always play in your favor when time comes for people to look for copyright permissions.

Make our Member Care Professionals (MCPs) part of your customer service team. Even if you think you'll never relocate, you can make sure clients or potential image users can always find you through PPA's call center or Find-A-Photographer search tool. Our MCPs regularly bring together copyright owners and prospective licensees.

3. Educate and inform your customers 
Your images are protected by Federal Copyright Law.

Bottom line, you're the only person who can decide who, when, and how your images are used. This means you have just as much of a right to say "no" to a client and third-party requests to use your copyrighted content as you do to license your work.

4. Use PPA's "Copyright Insert" 
You can download the Copyright Insert. These can be posted in your studio and inserted into each print order. (You can also call 800-786-6277 to purchase printed packs of 50 inserts.)

Let PPA bear some of the burden of enforcing/explaining copyright law. Use our short and easy to understand statement to support your studio's copyright policy.

5. Include a statement about copyright in your contract or other sales agreements
Infringements can then be dealt with as a contract violation, not just as a Federal Copyright case.

You never want to have to sue a client. Make sure they understand the law and their commitment to you as a client. This means putting a copyright clause in your agreements. It's often much easier for a client to understand they've broken a promise to you as opposed to a law they're somewhat removed from. If you need examples or a second pair of eyes on your clause, PPA's Copyright and Government Affairs will help you out at no cost (that's a PPA-membership benefit)! 

6. Consider including a statement with every order
The statement should remind clients that photographs are protected by copyright and that they (the customers) agree that reprints will only be ordered from the original photographer or with the photographer's permission.

If you don't put a copyright statement in your contract, you should at minimum put it on the order form or invoice. Depending on your state's laws this may not have the same weight as the actual contract but, it will indeed serve as a reminder to your client.
Again, one of the advantages of your membership is that PPA's Copyright and Government Affairs can help you with samples and basic advice there.

7. Establish contacts at local photo retailers
Visit with local store managers and urge them to keep an eye out for your and other professionally created images. They may get their feathers ruffled if they aren't well-informed about copyright laws, so approach them in a very friendly manner and open a casual, non-confrontational conversation. Often times, people just don't know. Plus, in the longer run, good relationships foster the best advocates!  

The Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau may also be helpful allies, and local media is often willing to print press releases focused on consumer education. Grassroots efforts such as these CAN make a difference. Your images are your property, so assert yourself and take the bull by the horns!

A lot of photographers have found that informing others is a great way to protect yourself!

Letting retailers know that they can easily pick up the phone to call you, or PPA, with questions is a good way to extend your sphere of protection. Make sure that store and/or photo center managers are familiar with your studio's policies. It's an important boost to their general understanding of the law and their own corporate policy. Most people will be thankful for this information.
8. Register your images
We hope you never experience an infringement but, why not give yourself a better bargaining position by ensuring your images are fully protected under the law.

Photographers often postpone or choose not to register images thinking they'll never need to defend their work, but less than 1% of photographers actually register their work. Even though registration isn't always known (unless of course you indicate as much on the print or to the client), making sure you can take full advantage of the law tells infringers (or potential infringers) you're serious about your intellectual property rights.

9. Don't close the door to licensing requests
In addition to offering up basic copyright education, remain open to your client's usage requests. Extending usage rights could be an upsell or an additional sale.

When it comes to your client's usage needs, copyright education is never ending. Make sure your clients know they can come back to you with their questions at any time. And even if you plan on saying "no," hear them out! Who knows? You might be open to the additional revenue that comes with image licensing.

10. Get Your Licenses/Permissions in writing
That old adage of putting it in writing. Aside from being the law it's good for your own record keeping purposes and a reminder to clients of what types of uses are off limits.

A lot of photographers think in good faith that 'verbal agreements are worth their weight in paper'. But while you might feel comfortable doing certain things on a handshake, copyright protections should not be one of them. The law requires you to put in writing any transfer of rights, no matter how big or small they might be. Remember, no one is above the law, so be sure you take the time to do so. PPA even makes it easy for you by making samples available.

So there you have it! Make sure you visit the Copyright Resources section of for more useful downloads and copyright information.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Professional Photographers of America (PPA) published on July 17, 2013 3:04 PM.

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