Want to stick it to copyright infringers? Here’s how

What? You thought copyright law protects you?

Not so much. Copyright law is great for the big creators—the motion pictures companies, rock stars—but it does precious little for high-volume creators like professional photographers, for whom each piece of work has a relatively low monetary value. Here’s why: In order to battle an infringer, you have to take your case to federal court. Federal court is expensive—like $345,000 expensive for the average copyright case cost. In fact, you'd have a hard time getting an attorney to touch a copyright infringement case unless damages are likely to exceed $30,000 … at a minimum.

The average copyright infringement against a photographer is valued at less than $3,000. That’s a lot of money for a photographer, who on average makes $35,000 a year. And yet it’s not near enough to take down an infringer.

Sound unfair? And illogical? It is. That’s why the nation's largest nonprofit association of working photographers is bucking for change. And the time to act is now.

For more than 20 years, Professional Photographers of America has been active in getting copyright law reformed. One of PPA's priorities is seeing the creation of a small claims process for copyright so photographers can go after infringers. And finally—just this month—lawmakers are drafting legislation to put this copyright small claims process in place.

Exciting news? Yes! End of the journey? No! The bill won’t make it from draft to legislation without co-sponsors—lots of them. And it won’t get co-sponsors without the voices of tens of thousands—yes, tens of thousands—of photographers and other visual arts creators pleading for them to act ASAP. So here’s what we need you to do:

  • Go to ppa.com/grassroots right now and sign up to receive updates on the bill. At some point in the near future you will receive a notification to begin contacting your local and state representatives about the bill. Don’t worry—the Grassroots Action Team website will make this process very easy. You’ll simply plug in your ZIP code to find the appropriate lawmakers in your area to contact, and then you’ll shoot off an email directly from the website. Or make a few phone calls. Simple and effective.
  • Share PPA’s “Understanding Small Claims” video. Not just once, not twice—up to 10 times on your social media feeds. Remember, tens of thousands of photographers' voices are needed in this initiatve, so this video needs to go viral to make that impact.  
  • Tune in to PPA’s upcoming webinars on copyright. These webinars will get you up to speed on copyright reform and explain what actions you need to take to mobilize in support of a small claims process. Visit ppa.com/advocacy for an updated list of webinar topics and times. 

This could be the most significant copyright change in your lifetime. 

Amanda Arnold is the associate editor of Professional Photographer.