Due to the internet, becoming a photographer has become somewhat easier. The problem is that it is also much easier to steal photos. Many people remain unaware that once they have taken a photograph there is no need to acquire a copyright due to the Federal Copyright Act of 1975. The moment the photograph is taken, it legally belongs to the photographer. There are steps to take if any work is stolen.
Any photograph used without the express permission of the photographer is legally prohibited from:
Reproduction of the photograph
Public display of the photograph, including online
Use of the photograph to create derivative works
Distribution of copies for rent, sale, lending or lease
All of the above are violations subject to both criminal and civil penalties. There are measures a photographer can take to help prevent any theft of their photography as well as recovering any losses should a theft occur. When someone uses a photo without first receiving permission, the photographer may make all legal efforts to have the photograph removed, receive compensation for the photograph, or hire a lawyer. Copyright violation is against the law regardless of whether the offender was aware the photograph is being used illegally.
The first step is to make a copy of the photograph. This is a screenshot or a paper image. Obtain the name and contact information of the person who stole the photograph when possible. Send a cease-and desist letter. This is done by the photographer, or through an attorney. The lawyer will state credit for the image is given to the photographer, and monetary damages are collected depending on the length of time the photograph was used, the determination the photograph was used without receiving permission, and the profits made from the photograph.
The best option is hiring an attorney to write the letter because they know the language and legal terms necessary for legality and accuracy. The letter will additionally have more of an impact than if written by the photographer. If there is no response, and the photograph was used online, a DMCA, or Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown should be filed. This 1998 act enables the photographer to ask the website to remove the photograph due to an infringement on the copyright. This does not need a registered copyright.
To file a DMCA, the ISP for the website is obtained. The site illegally using the photograph is then contacted with the following information:
The photograph displayed is infringing on the copyright
The photographer owns the copyright
A specification of the photograph
Permission has not been given to use the photograph
The contact details
The complaint must be in good faith in accordance with the National Press Photographers Association
The information must say under penalty of perjury regarding the accuracy of the notification
The notice must state permission was not granted to use the photograph
If the photographer is not satisfied with the results at this point, the only alternative is to file a lawsuit. It is critical that the attorney has experience in copyright law. The photograph should be officially copyrighted prior to filing the lawsuit. If the copyright is not registered, it is not possible to sue for copyright infringement in a federal court. The copyright adds validity to the claim, allows for statutory damages of $150,000, and enables the lawsuit to include legal fees. If the photograph has not been copyrighted, the lawsuit can only include actual profits and damages. Most cases of copyright infringement are settled out of court, and only one percent will make it to trial.
A photographer should take all possible steps to prevent any more theft in the future. Using a Watermark is an excellent way to deter potential theft. The mark positively identifies the photograph, and often the person illegally using the photograph has not removed the Watermark. There are Image Tracking Services who will check the internet for any specific images. If they find any of these images, they will arrange for legal action on behalf of the photographer to collect monetary payment for the unauthorized usage. If possible, a low-resolution setting will make a photograph a lot less attractive for possible theft.
D. Scott Carruthers is a highly gifted photographer. His background in art has enabled him to create photographs both unique and breathtaking. His travels on the West Coast resulted in photographs for the hottest fashion designers and the top brands. This led to his own photography studio and a successful career.