If you have an interest in the business side of photography, John Harrington’s Photo Business News Blog is a great resource. Over the last five years I’ve read a lot of words of wisdom about the photography business from the web, books, professional organizations, seminars and workshops. John’s book Best Business Practices for Photographers provides a wealth of solid business information, and excellent negotiating strategies. The real life email communication and contract examples are worth their weight in gold. Whether you are just starting out, or already a pro, this well written book is an essential resource that’s packed with great information. Highly recommended.
Update 1/30/07: Mia Garlick, General Counsel for Creative Commons, pointed me to a wiki: Discussion Draft Non Commercial Guidelines that addresses the concerns I’ve talked about in the article below. Forbes usage of Thomas Hawk’s image would clearly be commercial usage according to these Draft Guidelines. Gray areas with licensing make me uncomfortable, and I’m quite pleased that Creative Commons has a document in progress that seeks to clearly define what constitutes commercial usage. – jr
The Creative Commons license is billed as a more collaborative and open way to share your work than a standard copyright. I found the most interesting part of the Creative Commons FAQ to be a short item called Is Creative Commons Against Copyright? which states:
Not at all. Our licenses help you retain your copyright and manage your copyright in a more flexible, open way. In fact, our licenses rely upon copyright for their enforcement. The justification for intellectual property protection (under U.S. law, at least) is the “promot[ion of] the progress of science and the useful arts.” We want to promote science and the useful arts, too, and believe that helping creators or licensors fine-tune the exercise of their rights to suit their preferences helps do just that.
Sounds like a noble idea. But things get messy when you try to apply this paradigm to photography. At the risk of alienating some close friends, I want to boil the issue down into the most significant downside of using the Creative Commons license for photographs:
Applying the Creative Commons license to your photographs may provide a structured way to give away your work to large corporations for nothing more than a photo credit.
Forbes recently used one of Thomas Hawk’s images that was licensed under Creative Commons, and did not give him the required photo credit. After Thomas brought the issue to their attention, they added a credit. When Mr. Hawk was asked why he did not charge Forbes for the image, he responded on his blog:
For those of you who suggested I make Forbes pay money to use the image, reparations, etc. that’s just not my style. I like sharing my photos with the entire world. I make a little money on them from time to time but that is not the primary motivation. For me this issue was more about educating the mainstream media on the appropriate use of creative commons licensed images and the need for approval and credit.
The real crux of the situation is the fact that Thomas may not be able to charge Forbes any money because the Creative Commons license may already allow them to use the image for free, as long as a photo credit is included. Creative Commons limits commercial usage — which means advertising. But magazine and newspaper usage is editorial, not commercial.
Any magazine or newspaper in the world may be able to use your images for free as long as a photo credit is included. By licensing under Creative Commons you may be giving up control of editorial usage of your images, and potentially losing thousands of dollars in revenue.
And because the Creative Commons license is not revocable, any image obtained under the Creative Commons license may be able to be used in the future without payment.
Let’s look at an example of how a standard copyright affords much more control over your images:
A: Forbes wants to use a portrait for an article. I would license the image to Forbes for one time, non-exclusive, North American usage in their print publication and/or website, and in addition to a photo credit, I would put $300-400 in my pocket. Maybe more.
B: A few months later, a small non-profit organization run by volunteers is doing a feature on the portrait subject, and I let them use the image for free.
C: A few weeks later, a magazine I can’t stand wants to use the portrait — and I tell them no way.
But with Creative Commons, the large corporation, small non-profit, and magazine I don’t like may be able to use the image in print and on their website, and all I get is a photo credit.
I’ve struggled to understand why anyone would use a Creative Commons license for photographs when you can just copyright your images, and maintain control over who uses them. If you want to give your images away, that’s your decision to make on a case by case basis. But why give up control?
- For more information about Creative Commons, please see the Creative Commons FAQ
- For a searchable database of Creative Commons images, there is a Flickr Creative Commons Pool
Have a look at photojournalist Sion Touhig’s fascinating article on The Register: How the anti-copyright lobby makes big business richer.
We’re continually being told the Internet empowers the individual. But speaking as an individual creative worker myself, I’d argue that all this Utopian revolution has achieved so far in my sector is to disempower individuals, strengthen the hand of multinational businesses, and decrease the pool of information available to audiences. All things that the technology utopians say they wanted to avoid.
Sion’s article covers a wide range of hot topics including: citizen journalism, crowdsourcing, stock photography, and Creative Commons. There are extensive comments on Sion’s blog entry about this article. And if you’re tired of reading about copyright, have a look at the great photographs on Sion’s website.
Because many of my images are 6-8 minutes long, I don’t shoot a huge volume of photos every year. In 2006 I shot about 6000 digital images. Last year I also started converting my RAW files to DNG. In addition to the huge benefit of accurate previews, the DNG workflow can also save time when preparing images for copyright registration.
A DNG file contains a large JPEG preview that reflects your RAW adjustments and is fast to extract
I register images as 400×600 jpegs. With a RAW workflow in Photoshop, this would mean using the Image Processor to resize each RAW file into a web sized JPEG. This takes about 8 seconds per file. Let’s say I register my images quarterly, and I have 1,500 images to send in. At 8 seconds per file, that’s 200 minutes (3 1/2 hours) of jpeg conversions in Photoshop. Ouch. That’s a deterrent to registering your work.
Using the Convert Image command in iView Media Pro to extract web sized jpegs is incredibly fast compared to Photoshop. With the DNG workflow, I can use iView Media Pro to extract the embedded jpeg inside the DNG in under 1 second per file — about 10 times faster than Photoshop — 20 minutes.
I made an interesting discovery yesterday when preparing my final 2006 registration. Running iView’s Convert Image on Canon CR2 files is way faster than on DNGs — a folder of 150 CR2s takes about 15 seconds total to churn through on my Mac. Let’s review: 8 seconds per file with CR2s in Photoshop, 0.8 seconds per file with DNGs in iView, or 0.1 seconds per file with CR2s in iView.
By using Convert Image on CR2s, I could convert the 1500 images for the registration in a few minutes, fill out the registration form, and prepare my Fedex envelope — all in under one hour. Once you’ve got the registration form setup as a PDF template and the US Copyright Office’s address in your Fedex settings, this could be done in half an hour.
Here’s another important discovery I made yesterday for iView users converting CR2 files on a Mac:
When using Convert Image on a Mac, iView uses Quicktime to make the conversion. Depending on what version of iView you’re using, you may get an error when trying to convert. If you uncheck the Preserve EXIF box it will work fine. According to iView, this is a Quicktime bug.
I am considering adding a step to my workflow where CR2 files are converted into a copyright folder on a shoot by shoot basis — it only takes a few seconds.
I hope this information is helpful. More information about copyright coming up later this week. Stay tuned.
The article last week about using the Olympus 21/3.5 on the 5D generated an amazing amount of traffic to my humble little blog. Today I want to talk about something exponentially more important than wide angle lens performance. I want to talk about the most important $45 you can spend this month.
Disclaimer: Before we proceed, remember I’m a photographer, not a lawyer. This isn’t legal advice – I’m just trying to help other photographers understand this important issue.
OK. Here’s some background reading for this important assignment:
- Michael Grecco’s copyright primer, from the Editorial Photographers copyright resources page
- Peter Krogh’s How to copyright your photographs
Unless you have signed a contract that says otherwise, your work is copyrighted the moment you press the button on your camera. But unless you are registering your work with the US Copyright Office, you don’t have much protection.
Photographer A: shoots some images of an event and posts them online. A magazine grabs an image and publishes it without contacting the photographer. Photographer A’s friends scream: “Get a lawyer!” But if the image is not registered, Photographer A can only sue for actual damages (i.e., the fee the magazine would have paid for the usage). The cost of the lawsuit will most likely be way more than the amount of actual damages. With what magazines are paying these days, one hour of a lawyer’s time might be more than the actual damages.
Photographer B: registers their images with the US Copyright Office. If an infringement occurs, Photographer B can sue for actual damages, statutory damages, and legal fees. Photographer B has a much bigger stick to fight infringements because the image is registered.
Well that sounds great, you say. I want to be like Photographer B and protect my images. But this whole registration thing seems complicated.
Once you’ve done it the first time it’s easy. Here is some motivation:
- Copyright registration only costs $45
- Register a CD/DVD of web sized jpegs of all your unpublished images from 2006 all at once, for $45
- The form is easy to fill out, it’s 2 short pages — see a example PDFs on Peter Krogh’s site
- Tip: Use a trackable shipping method like Fedex to send in your registration
Depending on the volume of images you shoot in a year and what you do with your images, you may want to register monthly, quarterly, or twice a year. Even if an image has already been published, you can register published images within 90 days of publication and the copyright is retroactive to the published date. Again, the links above to Michael Grecco’s primer and Peter Krogh’s how-to pages are a huge help.
I’ll discuss the process of creating web sized jpegs for copyright registration in the next few days. Stay tuned.