Copyright Infringements = A Huge Problem For Professional Photographers
You know how it goes... You conduct a reverse image search and find your images on an e-commerce site; you're window shopping and see your photo on a business sign; you offer an exclusive license to a commercial client only to have the angry client call you after finding the images on his competitor's website; or you license images for website use to then have your own client violate your rights by using your image on a magazine cover. These are real stories of copyright infringements from PPA members. And, chances are, you have experienced something similar.
Now it's time to enforce your rights. What do you do? You call an expert for advice or consult with colleagues or even an attorney only to discover that your options are extremely limited. You can certainly try to recover damages on your own or with the help of PPA or an attorney, but you always face a very real chance that the infringer will simply turn up their nose and tell you to take them to court. Then you're left with only one option that in most cases is really no option at all.
The truth is that the current copyright system in the United States excludes the vast majority of creators. Yes, you read that right. Most creators have very little protection under the law because those without a massive income or corporate support have no real option for enforcement - and what good are rights when you can't actually enforce them?
Here's the problem - the only option for enforcement of copyright is to sue infringers in federal court. A survey of intellectual property (IP) attorneys conducted by the American Bar Association (ABA) revealed that most IP attorneys will not even consider taking on a copyright case unless the creator is likely to recover more than $30,000 in damages. Over 70% of PPA members report having dealt with infringements, but almost all of those members estimated the value of their infringements at less than $3,000. That amount of money makes a big difference to a small business and can even be enough to determine whether or not a studio can keep its doors open, but going to federal court to recover $3,000 is simply a non-starter.
The survey from the American Bar Association also exposed that the total estimated cost of a copyright lawsuit is more than $350,000. Even if you have a registered image and may recover some of those fees, what small business owner is willing to risk that amount of money? Who has the resources to pay that amount of legal fees upfront?
With its advocacy coalition, PPA is finalizing a policy paper for members of the House Judiciary Committee with substantive recommendations for advancing small claims legislation. In summary, PPA proposes a tribunal within the United States Copyright Office that will hear relatively small copyright claims. The current Office has recommended a process that will be administered through electronic submissions and via remote telecommunication facilities - we agree with this proposal. The purpose is to create a process that will give photographers and other small-business creators a much-needed simplified and cost-effective means for enforcing their copyrights.
But, there is an even larger goal - to foster a culture where businesses and consumers respect the rights of creators by eliminating the current standard of "steal first, ask for forgiveness later". A copyright small claims option would create an environment where infringers actually face consequences for their wrongdoing. This could lead to three very important things for professional photographers like you:
(1) A public who may actually have reservations about using your images without permission
(2) A viable enforcement option to hold over the heads of infringers when seeking compensation
(3) A way to make infringers pay when they refuse
This reform is the single most important issue for small-business copyright owners throughout the United States. Without the creation of a practical enforcement option, other improvements to the copyright system will have little effect. Fortunately, lawmakers within the Committee are dedicating to achieving this; the Copyright Office is advocating for it; and this issue has wide and increasing support both throughout Congress and among stakeholders - largely thanks to PPA's lobbying efforts.
Stay tuned to PPA.com/Advocacy for updates. We may see the advancement of small claims legislation as early as this year. When that happens, we will need your help. Stay informed on PPA's blog and website, and read up on the issues that affect your livelihood. PPA is here to help you Be More Protected.
Lindsey Forson is PPA's Copyright & Government Affairs Coordinator. She works with members on a daily basis addressing copyright questions and works closely with our CEO to advocate for professional photographers on Capitol Hill and to keep members informed on the issues that affect their businesses. She's new to Atlanta and spends most of her free time exploring the city (restaurants, markets, parks); spends three nights a week playing soccer and is a huge Auburn fan.