© is for Copyright - a Layman’s guide

Anyone who works in the media - in print, picture research, photography, advertising, public relations, publishing, travel - anything which might require the use of a photograph, whether it be to hang on the office wall, print on a t-shirt, project onto the front of Buckingham Palace or publish the size of a postage stamp in a magazine, would be well advised to know beforehand if what is intended is permitted. It’s not enough to assume that someone further up the chain of command in the office will sort it out. It is essential that even the raw office junior should understand the law regarding copyright. Every student, regardless of their subject, should have a general idea as to what they can use in their thesis. Every media student should spend time studying the ins and outs of all aspects of intellectual property. Finding an easily digested book which says more-or-less everything that needs to be said is not easy

The trouble with most publications on Copyright is that they are invariably written by lawyers who know everything and are inclined to assume that readers have a good working knowledge of the fundamentals. On the whole, those who understand copyright don’t need to read explanatory books and those who are novices need to have it fed to them in words of one syllable. It’s all very well starting school at secondary level but it’s not a lot of help if you haven’t already attended primary school. Books on copyright are rarely illustrated but examples are a huge help when it comes to defining ‘incidental inclusion’ or what constitutes ‘parody’. On the whole, lawyers don’t think in pictures. They think in words. The reverse is true for anyone involved in photography.

This is a web site for those who know little or nothing about copyright and may be baffled by the technical side of photographic distribution in the digital age. Whenever it is possible and appropriate, a picture is supplied. Scanning and e-mailing is performed automatically but it is rare for anyone other than geeks to understand what happens or why. Without resorting to incomprehensible jargon, this is an effort to explain.

It may not be politically correct but throughout, everyone is referred to as ‘he’ because to write ‘he or she’ every time is tedious and there is as yet no satisfactory alternative.

There are different sections in various Copyright Acts devoted to alternative subjects such as music, film and writing. This site is devoted to photography, is basic, will stop where lawyers usually begin and there will be no legalese. Either the answer to a problem is relatively simple or is readily available in one of several publications or web sites which all photographers and picture users should consider investigating, some of which are listed at the end. Copyright is not as frightening as you may think - certainly not at this level. It is all about common sense and logic.

Copyright is a property right. Since this is about photography, in this case it’s a right which belongs to photographers in relation to the photographs they create or to those who have acquired copyright through inheritance or by having it assigned to them or as commissioners. It’s a right which stops anyone copying a photograph taken by someone else and copying means publishing as well as making photographic copies. It doesn’t have to be a fine photograph, the photographer doesn’t have to be a professional and it doesn’t matter who processed and printed the photograph or whether it’s digital or analogue. The act of looking through the viewfinder, getting something in the frame, clicking the shutter and creating an image also creates copyright in that image and it doesn’t matter who owns the film or the camera. What is in the picture is usually irrelevant. Unless it has been agreed beforehand, whoever took the picture owns the copyright and is described as ‘The Author’. It can be a picture of practically anything; the cat, the baby, a wedding, the boy friend, a terrorist incident, a natural disaster, Tower Bridge, a celebrity celebrating. So long as there is no agreement otherwise and it does not infringe entitlements to privacy, whoever owns the rights can sell a print of the photograph, which gives the purchaser a nice picture to hang on the wall but no right to reproduce or license the photograph for a specific use and still retain rights or sell both the photograph and the copyright. Whatever some buyers may think, buying a photographic print, however expensive, does not include copyright and the right to market copies unless this is agreed in writing, either before or at the time of the sale. Copyright does not expire until after the author is long gone and all the time, the copyright in that photograph is protected by a law which prevents anyone from using it without the then copyright owner’s permission. This entitles the owner of the copyright - probably the photographers’ heir - to seek a fee every time the photograph is reproduced for purposes other than those which are legitimately allowed and there are a few. Selling or assigning copyright is not a good idea and should be resisted if possible.

This is obviously a much simplified version of what is current and there are endless ifs and buts and a lot of very important extras which come later but fundamentally, that’s is what it’s all about.