Peter Stevenson, director at photographer’s insurance specialist InFocus Insurance, discusses a recent case of a photographer in the US who has taken legal action after his images were used on Facebook without his permission. All photographers should take simple measures to avoid their images being illegally used.
An interesting case this month involving a photographer in the US should serve as a warning to photographers everywhere. Mitchell Davis worked for 15 years as the in-house photographer at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, an arena in Tampa, Florida, used for ice hockey, basketball, and arena football games, as well as music concerts. As the in-house photographer he went to most of the major concerts at the Tampa Bay Times Forum to take images of the stars.
Last year, the photographer’s job ended and Mitchell filed a lawsuit against the Forum over what he claims is unauthorised use of his photos. Mitchell explained that The Forum started posting his photos on its Facebook page allowing anyone to download them without paying. He said: "Unfortunately for photographers, Facebook is turning into the new Napster for us."
Now, under copyright laws, it is the photographer who owns the copyright on any photo. However, this is not the case if the photographer is employed by a company to take photos on its behalf.
You would think therefore, that the concert hall was within its rights in doing what it wanted with the images taken by Mitchell, as it had employed him to take photos at the arena. Here comes the part that you should take note of if you are a photographer employed by a company but wish to retain some control over where your images appear. Mitchell has stated that there was a clause in his contract that stopped The Forum giving away his images to any third party, without his permission. This goes to show how important it is to make sure you have a contract in place for every job you do. When Mitchell spotted that this was happening, he says he asked management at the company to watermark the photos and thus protect the copyright, saying: "It's so easy in the digital age to make a copy of a photograph and then distribute it any way you want." He claims his warnings were ignored and that he lost his job over this case.
As well as seeing his images on the Facebook site, his photos were printed in huge banner format and placed on the walls outside of the venue. Mitchell is now concerned that he didn’t get approval from the celebrities that he pictured, to have their images blown up and shown on the side of a building.
Due to the above situation, the photographer has filed a lawsuit claim for ‘violation of ownership rights, copyrights and usage rights on the photos’. The Forum now needs to respond to this and legal experts say that if the photographer is successful, he could get a pay-out of up to $40 million.
This case shows how strongly this photographer is taking the copyright of his images, and as a photographer working in the UK, there are lots of steps you can take, which are especially important if you have images appearing online. The fact is, if your work is online, there is a risk it could be stolen. Many people browsing the web, simply don’t realise the intrinsic financial worth of images found on the internet and that they have to get permission to use them.
The first thing to remember is to put a visible watermark on all your work so that it cannot be reproduced. This can easily be done so that it doesn’t impinge on the image too much.
Next, remember to attach data to your online images – this should contain all your contact information as well as copyright details for the photo. Make it a habit to regularly check the internet for your images, using all the search engines. Keep on top of social media trends and places where your photos may be shared, often by people who have no idea they are doing anything wrong. For example, new social networking site Pinterest has recently come under fire. It allows people to ‘pin’ images found online that they like and is accused of encouraging people to infringe the copyright of photographers.
It’s clear from the case above that photographers need to take all steps they can to protect their images. Before you take on a job, make sure the contract refers to the copyright of the images and when you hand over the photographs, ensure you state exactly what can and can’t be done with the images.
About The Author
Infocus Photography Insurance
Infocus is a leading provider of insurance for photographers in the UK with more than 20 years experience.
Their insurance product is tailored for UK photographers in association with Hiscox, the award-winning insurer. Their aim is to provide quality of service and breadth of cover to ensure that everything you value is protected.