copyright: why all the fuss?

Copyright applies to all images whether or not they contain a copyright notice. The general rule is this: if you shot it, you own it... if you didn't, you don't. This means that your vacation snapshots are automatically copyrighted -by you- the moment you click the shutter. But that's not the area of concern. The concern is protecting the owner of an image from losing his or her legal right to control how that image is used.

The following information was provided by the Photo Marketing Association to help customers understand why some photos or digital images cannot legally be copied or altered by DigiGraphics.

What Is Copyright?
The U.S. Constitution and the Federal Copyright Act give “copyright” protection to “authors” for their “original works,” such as photographs. Among the protections that copyright owners have is the exclusive right to:

1. Make copies of the work.
2. Prepare other works based on the original.
3. Distribute copies of the work to the public by sale, rental, lease or lending.
4. Publicly perform and display the work.

These rights are protected by laws that provide for damages and criminal penalties for violations. Both the customer and the lab are subject to the law.

Who Owns What?
The law says the “author” is the owner of the copyright. The author of a photo or image is usually the person who snapped the shutter or created the image. If you took the photo, you own the copyright. If a professional photographer took the photo for you, then he or she owns the copyright. If that photographer is an employee of a studio or other person in the business of making photos, then his or her employer is considered the author.

Prior to 1978, court cases said a customer who commissioned a photo was the employer of the photographer, so customers could get reprints made without any problem.

In 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court said a 1978 law made that no longer true. To be an employee, the court said a person would have to be considered an employee under the traditional tests such as are used to impose payroll taxes, social security and similar laws. That is not the usual customer-photographer relationship.

Why All the Fuss?
The primary reason is economic. Photographers feel that they invest a lot of time and creative energy in getting the experience, and setting the camera, pose, lighting, background and extra shots to get the right one. They generally price their services by taking into account the fact that customers will purchase their prints from the photographer. If the prints are obtained elsewhere, the photographer loses the opportunity to recover a fee for the effort expended. Thus, the photographer wants the
customer to come to him or her to request reprints so an appropriate fee can be charged.

Some photographers charge a realistic fee “up front” to compensate for their services, whether or not prints are ordered. They may authorize the customer to have the prints made anywhere.

Some photographers also are concerned about artistic integrity. Since their name is associated with the photos, they want control over how the reprints look. There may be many other reasons. You are encouraged to discuss these issues with your photographer. That way his or her position can be fully explained, and you can obtain the additional copies you desire.

How Can I Get Copies Made?
If we cannot make the copies or provide the digital services for you, go to your photographer and request them. A professional photographer will do their best to see that your needs are met. If they cannot make the copies, they may authorize us to make them.

Are There Any Exceptions?
Generally, no. In some unique circumstances, we may be able to consider special requests. We will gather information and investigate to the extent necessary to determine if permission can be obtained, making a decision based on our best judgment of how the law applies.

Please understand if we tell you we cannot make copies. It is our legal obligation to protect the copyright holder to the extent possible, and to keep you and ourselves from incurring liability.