Let’s face it. We all know that intellectual property (copyright) infringement is running rampant in this digital age, and anyone with enough money to hire an attorney will be the first to make someone an example.
One of the issues photographers and artists are currently facing is having someone download photos straight off of their websites and using them without permission. Some may find it flattering, but others may find it an annoyance. In order to give a better idea of the concept of infringing on the work of artisans, I would like to use a few examples.
This is the original photo I took of the model.
Suppose the model didn’t like the way she looked so she asked someone else to “fix” some things for her. Is this copyright infringement? Unless the photographer gives permission for someone else to alter their work, it is considered copyright infringement. Personally, I wouldn’t care if the model changed the photo herself or hired someone else to do it, as long as they didn’t try to sell it or claim it’s their own work.
Now suppose you are a blogger and you need a particular picture for your entry. You find something you like, decide to change the photo up a bit by cropping a portion and changing the toning, then post it on your own blog. Is this copyright infringement? You bet it is. Just because the photo is altered doesn’t give you any rights to it. No amount of cropping and toning can make it yours.
Another scenario: You see a picture of something you find on the internet and you would love to have a painting made of it. Maybe you want a few things changed up a bit like the colors. Maybe you’re an artist yourself and would like to paint it or maybe you pay another artist to make it into a work of art. Now you have violated copyright laws. Any use of an intellectual property such as an image, artwork, writing, etc., without the express permission of that person is copyright infringement. Plain and simple. It may not be a problem if you keep it for your personal use, but if you try to sell it as your own, you may find yourself in a lawsuit.
I once took some pet photos of a friend. She loved them so much she wanted to enter them in a contest. Unless you have permission from the photographer to do so, you could be violating copyright laws by submitting something that isn’t rightfully yours. I would have loved to have given her permission to enter these photos, however, after reading the fine print, I would be giving the company permission to use my work in any way they would like without any compensation. Always read the fine print!
There are also a few grey areas that haven’t been covered. For example:
You are a photographer and you want to mimic the master works of Ansel Adams. You find the exact location of where Ansel stood, waited for the moon to rise and the clouds to form in the exact place, and you take a series of photos until you get the right one. Is this copyright infringement? No. You did not arrange the moon and clouds, you simply imitated a master’s work. Imitation is not infringement.
On the other hand, suppose you are a photographer and admire the work of someone else so you decide to copy the layout of the image. For example, the photo is very specific in the way certain items are arranged – perhaps there is a model with a very original pose with one leg around her neck, the other wearing a rubber boot, a rose on a table in a certain angle, lighting is set up just right, a particular book with its title shown is on the table under the rose, a fork is dangling from the model’s mouth, and there is a dead fish on the floor next to the rubber boot. This is someone’s original idea, it is very specific and nothing like anything that anyone else has done. You think it’s cool and want to try it out and copy it too. Would this be an infringement of the original person’s work? More than likely the photographer would win his case in a US Supreme Court because he could prove that his original idea had to be manipulated by human hands (as opposed to the Ansel Adams photo) in order to copy his work.
For any artist or photographer who does not already do so, I highly suggest watermarking your name and/or website across everything you upload to the internet and only upload low resolution photos. This way if you find your work on someone else’s website you can prove it’s yours. As for those of you that think it’s okay to use someone else’s photos just because you see it on the internet, think again. It doesn’t hurt to ask someone for permission to use their work for yourself. We might even say yes.