Protect your copyright

Defence against the illegal copying and scanning of your images

Posted 20/May/2001 - 12:00AM

Here's a collection of ideas to help you reduce the chances of your work being copied and protect your income.

A plan of action
As modern technology advances, the problem of illegal copying is only going to get worse. Currently the best plan of action is to discourage copying as far as possible and have a complete studio strategy that covers all the stages of an assignment; from taking the booking through to delivering the final reprint order.

Stage 1: The Booking
Most clients have heard about copyright. It is a good idea to ensure that they are aware that it will be illegal for them to copy your images at the time of booking. Your terms of business, contract forms, even a notice in your reception area should all be used to inform your clients that copying is illegal.

Stage 2: Previews.
Allowing clients to take finished quality previews or proof prints away from your studio should be avoided at all costs! Even if you have received full payment for an order, future re-orders and the sale of extra prints are at risk.
Here are a few suggestions that have worked well for many studios.

A Transproofs viewed in the studio are ideal for portraits, but are rather time consuming for weddings and impractical for many other types of photography.

Video proofs, copy your proof prints or negatives using a camcorder or an image viewer such as the Fuji FV10. It is even possible to use some camcorder's with a video colour corrector to produce TV previews from negatives. Clients could then select their prints in the studio or take them home on videotape, the quality is not usually high enough to copy or make prints from.

C Computer display and Album Arranger system, although similar to transproofs, they offer greater speed and are great for both weddings and portraits. A small album containing inkjet prints of each image is ideal for relatives or friends to order from. By ensuring that resolution is not too high they should be good enough for selection but too poor to copy. The Album arranger system produces impressive virtual albums on screen, showing clients exactly how their album will be made up before a single print has been ordered. We find couples prefer to select their album prints in the studio this way rather than choose at home. Computer previews can be produced by simply scanning traditional proof prints or from negatives.
Digital Prints Rather than using photographic previews, use low resolution inkjet proofs instead, or a CD ROM, good enough to choose from but yields very poor results when copied.

E Stamped Proofs & Masked Proofs Using a Welon Foil press to print text such as the Studio name or phone number over your proof prints looks professional and makes copying pointless! The Welon proof masks, are simply placed over the negative at the printing stage and add text to a print such as the word, PROOF outline style of lettering has the advantage of reducing copying while not obstructing the image. Other text such as a phone number, copyright warning or a studio logo could also be added. These type of proof prints are very useful for event and group photography, where multi-print sales are expected from a single proof print.

F Preview Albums Make sure these are secure, use the plastic security posts and glue them together (it has been found that some clients have managed to open and re-close these). An alternative is to punch an extra hole in the preview pages and place wire tie through it that has been printed with a special foil and glued shut. The Welon foil press can print text onto the plastic see-through pages. This looks professional while at the same time discouraging copying.

A proof print that is copied, is not worth the paper it's printed on! While a stamped or masked proof is a salesman working for you!

Stage 3: The Finished Photographs.
To reduce copying it is important to show clearly who created the image and to give a warning about copying. A Copyright warning on the rear of a print and folder is essential, but what about the front of the print? One of the best ways to do this is to foil print, using a Welon Press the studio or photographers name discreetly on the front corner of all prints leaving the studio. This also looks very professional and gives the look of quality to a photograph A simple signature style imprint is all that is needed. It only takes a second to print and costs fractions of a penny per print. The blocking also warns copy shops that this is a professional image and should not be copied, as well as acting as an advertisement for your studio.


Should a gloss foiled logo be copied it usually appears black on the copy making it obvious that it is not an original print.

Clients rarely object to a discreet signature on photographs. To avoid problems it is advisable to have all sample and display prints in your reception area and in all sample albums blocked in the corner so that the client 'gets what they see!'

If you get a client requesting prints without your name on, ask yourself WHY!

Photographs are the ultimate designer products and deserve a designer label, after all who has heard of anyone objecting to a trade name or logo appearing on a pair of jeans or a manufactures badge on the bonnet of a new car!

Victorian photographers did not have to worry about illegal copying but they were proud enough of their work to have their names clearly visible on their photographs. The Professional Photographers of America have produced a nice little leaflet which they encourage photographers to give to their clients when collecting their orders. It explains in a simple friendly way, what copyright is and how it relates to photography.

All photographers should take copyright seriously, no matter what steps you take, your clients would prefer you to carry on as before, but it's your livelihood and family income that is at risk not theirs.

A group of photographers in South Yorkshire, who were worried by lost reprint sales, got together to form the Professional Photographers Group. They then ran spot checks on copy shops. When they found that a shop was refusing to copy professional images they would write to them, thanking them for obeying the law. Those shops which broke the law, received an official looking letter reminding them of their legal obligations and were later re-tested. The group found this to be an effective way of reducing copying, in their area

These suggestions should be used as guide, as you know your own studio better than any one else, the best methods of copyright protection are the ones which work for you!

The Welon Press is available from Bellwood Photography. Tel 0114 234 4746. Fax 0114 285 5667.


No one has commented on this yet. Be the first!

Leave a Comment

You must be a FPME member to comment. Join FPME Today!