C is for

by simonrleach

Copyright, the dreaded C word of negotiation. Clients want it, photographers know they should keep it and then there are those lobbyists that think we should just do away with the whole idea completely. So here I go, money where my mouth is, trying to explain why I personally see it as important, why I encourage others to understand and engage with it and why I try to get involved when changes to copyright law are suggested.

The principle is easy, you own a car…..then you can decide who drives it. You live in a house or an apartment…..then it’s your right to choose who enters. Of course people can come in against your will, but that would be trespassing or breaking and entering and you can choose whether to call the police. Copyright is an umbrella term for something that ‘I’ own because ‘I’ created it. In my case this is a photograph, for someone else it is a sculpture or a painting (and so on). I want the right to choose who gets to use my photograph; whether I am remunerated, for how much and for what purpose comes later; the principle, though, allows a personal choice. I think most would agree it is difficult to create a case to argue for dictate, when personal time, money, knowledge and skill have been invested.

If I have no copyright then I have no choice as to who uses something I have created – even if it is an organisation that I have no wish to be associated with, perhaps because of a difference in economic, environmental, political, cultural or religious differences. If someone wishes to own a representation or original work I have created, without copyright I have no ability to limit editions, denying them potential benefit from any rise in perceived value of that work. I also have no ability to offer use to one company, organisation or individual to the exclusion of others, therefore ruling out any benefit of having sole and exclusive use of the imagery. Without exclusive use of imagery it is difficult for companies to market, brand and raise their profiles, making it more difficult for that business to develop and benefit society.

If you think this is only relevant to businesses and to professional photographers, wrong! This applies to everyone. Everyone has created something, even if it’s only a photo on a mobile phone, a picture of your family, a picture of your holiday, something. Is it really fair for you to have absolutely no say in who might attribute your creation to their cause? If you really want to make your work available to others without exercising any restriction, you can use Creative Commons licensing to do so. But retain the right to make it an active choice, rather than merely a default position.

Finally don’t be swayed by the argument that it is okay to do away with copyright where there is no gain being made for the user; that it’s not being used commercially. Benefit comes in many forms, if nothing else it’s about exposure, brand, identity and promotion. Just because it’s not being sold, it does not mean someone is not gaining.

Some further information you may find of interest.

Association of Photographers
provides draft licensing forms, a set of FAQ’s and an online usage calculator

Creative Commons
for information and definitions

an online registry for your contact information to prevent historic metadata

Creative Barcode
visible barcodes and registry of associated licensing information