Since the days of Napster and the advent of the information age, copyright infringement has been an inherent part of our culture. From streaming your favorite TV series, downloading a leaked album, or snagging photos from Pinterest or Tumblr, it is so engrained in our Internet culture of memes, file sharing, and social networks that the risks are rarely thought through.
As photographers, or any media makers truthfully, it is important to think about these things a bit more than the average Internet surfer. There are many things you must consider before posting your photos, and some things you can do to help better protect your copyright to those images. That said, today an online portfolio is mandatory, and since screenshots are pretty simple and widely used, completely protecting your images from being downloaded is almost impossible.
Fortunately when someone drag-and-drops an image from your website or takes a screenshot, the resolution is so low that it will not print properly. Thus, although they will be able to use the image digitally, it won’t merit much tangible value. If they were to try to print that image, it would look pixelated since when optimizing for print, photographers typically aim to keep images at 300 pixels per inch, whereas when optimizing for web, images should be sized at 72 pixels per inch for faster download time. While people can indeed download your images rather easily, the poor quality of those images makes the download rather devalued.
How to Protect Your Images
And while most people are okay with sharing their images, they usually want to ensure that their name stays attached to it. There are two ways to do this, one significantly subtler than the other. One of the horrible chores that all photographers avoid is entering metadata. Whenever you import your images in Bridge (or whatever program you use to import photos), make sure to add tags to your images. One of the fields you can add is “copyright owner.” If you add this tag, then whenever this image is sent anywhere, if someone looks at the metadata, or information tab in the file, it should state your information. A lot of photographers like to write their contact information into their metadata as well. This way, if someone downloads an image that has been separated from your site or a caption directing them to your site, they can still get in contact with you. Depending on which programs you import through, there are options for automatically writing in your copyright information to all files upon import, so that you don’t have to tediously enter it all yourself.
The second option, and less subtle of the two, is to add a watermark to your images. Some watermarks are a little more discrete, tucked into the corner in a small or sometimes almost transparent font. However if you are very concerned about copyright infringement it may be in your best interest to place a large and less aesthetically-pleasing watermark on your photographs. In certain contexts, such as wedding proofs or school photos, this is done more frequently, whereas with work like fashion photography or art photography, it is less common.
Read the Terms and Conditions
Another thing that photographers must be careful with is where they are sharing their images. Oftentimes, we agree to “terms and agreements” that we rarely take the time to read through. However as a photographer, it is important that you read these rights, because in some cases when you post an image to a site, you give the site the rights to use that image however they see fit. A couple of websites whose terms and agreements you should pay particular attention to are Facebook and Flickr, two of the web’s largest photo-sharing sites. Here’s an excerpt from Yahoo!’s terms and agreements. Since they own Flickr, these rules apply there as well.
“Yahoo! does not claim ownership of Content you submit or make available for inclusion on the Yahoo! Services. However, with respect to Content you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo! Services, you grant Yahoo! the following worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive license(s)”
This means that while you still maintain the ownership to these images, you are granting Yahoo! the right to use your images. Granted, with the millions of images currently hosted on Flickr it is safe to assume that they probably aren’t going to use your images, however it is important to know what you are agreeing to when you post images on these sites.
License Your Photos
If you do decide to share on Flickr or other photo-sharing websites (Behance, Deviantart, etc.), you have to decide how to license your photos. Creative Commons is a licensing option that allows your images to be distributed freely so other artists can use your images to create their own work. This can be great for building a network, and establishing a community of photographers or artists who are inspired by your work and vice versa. However there are risks to this. There was a famous case where Virgin Mobile took an image from Flickr that was shared under Creative Commons and used it in their ad without telling the photographer. The photographer had shared their images under Creative Commons licensing so that his friends could download them hassle-free. Because of this, the image was free to use for commercial purposes. Ultimately, the legal issue ended up being over the model release as opposed to the photographer’s rights since the girl in the photo was underage. To avoid scenarios like this altogether, I highly recommend that if you do decide to share photos via sites like Flickr, or Deviant Art, use the ‘all rights reserved’ setting.
Don’t Publish Too Early
Finally, if you are interested in having your images published on a blog, in an art show, or even in print, it can be tempting to share these images with your friends and family via Facebook or post them to a group page on Flickr. You are most likely very proud of these images, since you have decided to try to get them published. However resist this urge! Publishers like having an ‘exclusive’ or ‘first’ look at a photo or series, and when you post it on your wall or other social media outlet, you are in fact publishing it. Many art shows actually stipulate that submissions must not have been published anywhere previously (online or otherwise), so if you think you’d like to try to get a particular set of images published, keep them safely stored off the internet, or send via private emails until they are ready to be sent to editors.
Sharing your photos on social media networks and the Internet at large can be a great way to get recognition for your work and direct traffic to your website. Your website works as an easy way for editors, potential clients, or other collaborators to view your portfolio. Inevitably, you need to have some of your photos shared on the web, and frankly, there is the possibility that your photos will be downloaded and published around the blogosphere without you even knowing it (although rather unlikely). That being said, there are steps you can take to help prevent your images from being used without your consent. So, go forth and publish! But proceed with caution.