Thinking about copyright

Thu 01 Oct 2009 by Alan (Fred)_Pipes


Copyright is probably something we never think much about - until something goes wrong and we get ripped off. We all should know that anything we create is covered by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, and belongs to us, unless we assign it to someone else - literally sign it away. We can license it to someone, but the copyright is still ours. The only exception is if you do it in the course of your employment - then it belongs to your employer.

But have you ever thought that you may be infringing someone else's copyright? This occured to me at a seminar for photographers last night at the Media Centre, hosted by Brighton media solicitors Mayo Wynne Baxter. The speaker was Scott Gair, a keen photographer himself. Did you realise that if someone takes a photo of you - on your camera - then the copyright in that image belongs to them and not you? It's unlikely they'll sue you for using it as your avatar on the BiG website, but it's something to ponder on. Also if you copy a photograph by painting a picture of a substantial part of it - you also may be infringing copyright, so be careful where you get your reference from.

We hope to start an Inspirations section on the website soon, so before you start grabbing images off the internet, consider the copyright implications. Images become in the public domain 70 years after the creator dies, so you'll be safe with Old Masters, but if it's the work of a living artist, you'll have to get their permission to reproduce it.

Copyright is a big subject and we can't tackle it all here. How do you protect yourself? Use the metadata in Photoshop to add your contact details, for example, so that an infringer has no excuse that they didn't know who made it. Add watermarks if you must. Keep the images low-res. Discuss terms and conditions with the client ideally before you start work - and get it in writing. Assert your moral right to be identified as the 'author' by putting a copyright notice on your work and your website.

If someone does rip off your image, you may get legal advice from the AOI or NUJ, but you can also call Scott Gair's 'bat phone' 01273 775533 and for an initial fee of £40 + vat, he will get the ball rolling, telling the culprit to cease using the pic, and claim compensation. We hope to have Mr Gair along to a future BiG meeting, so get your questions ready!

Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, so take any of the general advice above at your own risk.