Last night, ASMP Dallas hosted a copyright session to educate Dallas photographers on protecting their images across social media. The panel included Ft. Worth Star-Telegram photographer Richard Rodriguez, whose image of Texas Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor punching Toronto Blue Jays Jose Bautista in the face was widely ripped off last year. Also speaking was Donna Halperin, director of client services at Liebowitz Law Firm, PLLC, in Valley Stream, New York.
I spoke with Halperin and her colleague Kate Tsyvkin, an attorney at Liebowitz Law Firm, to find out 5 things photographers should know about copyright law in the digital age.
1. This is not the Wild West
Contrary to commonly held opinion among creatives, the law is not actually lagging behind in the digital age.
“Copyright laws have been fairly good at adapting to new technology,” said Halperin. “You can cobble together something that looks like a good policy and it’s not a free-for-all.”
2. Copyright law encourages published works
One of the biggest questions photographers have is if they should register their work as published or unpublished. In fact, copyright law rewards people for being creative and encourages photographers to register their work as published.
“Once you do that, the damages for infringement become greater, and the reward for protecting your work become greater,” said Tsyvkin. “Publish your photos and register them as published—the real goal is for people to be creative and feel secure that their creativity will be protected and rewarded.”
3. It costs very little to register your work
It costs $35 to register one item, and $55 to register up to 750 items within one year. This is your only form of “insurance” and it’s worth it to protect your images and make you eligible for statutory damages if they’re ripped off, Halperin says.
4. Contract language matters
Many photographers struggle to put together a contract that expresses exactly what they intend. Don’t DIY this—contract language matters. You want to make you’re your individual rights are protected in the contract, and the smallest phrase can affect the legal meaning of a contract. Both ASMP and the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) have sample contracts available to members to use.
5. There are attorneys who work on contingency for copyright cases
Liebowitz Law Firm is one of the only firms in the country that will work on contingency for copyright cases, putting the financial risk on them. This is noteworthy because prior to this, photographers had to do all the legwork and take the risk to pursue legal remedies for copyright infringement. It was so costly to pursue companies in federal court that only the wealthiest photographers—or those on a crusade—could do it. Contingency upends that formula and makes it affordable for photographers to protect their work.
“We take on our clients and provide all the upfront costs for filing and registering and we search out clients’ images for infringements and find out if companies are prospering while they’re not,” Tsyvkin said. “[Owner and partner] Richard Liebowitz is a photographer himself and he has been infringed upon, so this is important to him.”