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Do’s and Don’ts of Copyright

David Esquire laughs when I call him a copyright evangelist. It’s a knowing, admitting laugh. “I am a big fan of not only protecting my work, but encouraging photographers and other artists to respect each other’s work and not steal it,” says the intense, passionate California-based wedding and portrait photographer.

He knows there’s plenty of copyright violators outside the photo community. There are plenty of companies and clients that overstep licenses, assuming images posted online are free. But he’s looking inward, too, at what we photographers do. In fact, we weaken the moral high ground more than we should. Rather than running roughshod over fellow creatives’ copyright, we need to take a stand to protect copyright.

Are we doing what’s right for copyright?

Esquire’s Copyright Do’s and Don’ts:

  • DO stick up for your rights, by carefully reviewing proposed contracts to ensure you’re not giving away ownership of the copyright. License whatever you wish (as long as you’re paid fairly!), but don’t relinquish copyright.
  • DO respond to inquiries about your availability with your own prepared contract, rather than waiting for the prospective client to send theirs. That way you’ll be starting negotiations from a position where you are protected, and the client will have to argue against your standard, as opposed to the other way around.
  • DO use written contracts and model releases with all your clients. (Esquire had a written contract with his sister when he photographed her wedding.) This way everyone will know at the outset what the usage can and can’t be – including whether you’re allowed to use the images in advertising, portfolios, online galleries, or other self-promotional ways.
  • DO watermark work you post online. Esquire notes that Dali and Michelangelo signed their work; why shouldn’t you? Make your watermark prominent and overlapping a significant element in the image, so it’s harder to excise. Also, reduce the resolution of any images you post publicly; they’ll be shared on Pinterest, Tumblr, and other social media, and you don’t want your full-res images getting out. (But you DO want them shared, with your watermark on them – that’s free advertising!)
  • DO embed EXIF data in all outgoing images. Lightroom automates this process, which allows you to encode your copyright claim and contact info – as well as visibly in the watermark.
  • DO register your body of work with the US Copyright Office. You can register a collection of any number of previously unpublished images for $35, which adds protection against copyright infringement because people who violated registered copyright are liable not only for actual damages (how much money they made that you should have, and so on), but also for $150,000 in statutory damages for each violation.
  • DO occasionally drag one of your images into Google Image Search and see if it appears anywhere else online.
  • DO join the Professional Photographers of America, which not only offers legal advice for photographers but also goes to court on their behalf to protect copyright.
  • DO consider using more video on your website than static images. Not only can video be more compelling for showing a variety of work to prospective clients, but it’s harder for potential infringers to get good-quality images off a streaming online video, as compared even with a lower-res JPEG. (On Esquire’s newly redesigned site, his images appear almost exclusively in videos.)
  • DO defend your copyright against infringers. Obviously this is easier if you have a clear written contract setting out what’s permissible, and what’s not. Esquire is presently taking legal action against a client who is using his images in violation of the terms of their contract.
  • DON’T fall prey to thinking what you’re doing qualifies as “fair use.” And don’t buy others’ use of that principle to get away with stealing your work. Fair use is specific; know how and what it’s for, and seek legal advice if you’re unsure.

Esquire’s biggest beef is one he believes puts photographers as a group in murky ethical waters. Stealing others’ work is just as bad to them as having your own work stolen is for you.

As a result:

  • DON’T use a copyrighted song for a photo slideshow without permission. Not getting permission or a license can result in cease-and-desist letters, which can make client conversations awkward. (“Hi, uh, remember that slideshow you absolutely loved with that Beatles song… Yeah, we can’t use that music so I’ll have to redo the slidedhow.”) Asking for permission, as Esquire learned when photographing DJ/producer John B, can get not only a favorable response, but a marketing boost – John B loved the video, and tweeted about it to his followers, who far outnumber Esquire’s social-media connections.
  • DO visit sites like songfreedom.com and TripleScoopMusic.com for easy, inexpensive ways to license music to use legally in your slideshows.

About David Esquire

My passion for photography began when I was a kid picking up my mother’s Kodak book on basic photography where I fell head over heels in love with the medium (she was a wedding & portrait photographer). Since then, my creative universe in art and music rapidly expanded when I graduated school and went on to become a drummer in a dance-rock band, model for Ralph Lauren, and perform as a street dancer in nightclubs in Chicago, Kansas City, Portland and more (I thought I had moves back then…). But all the while I still snapped away at the camera capturing what my clients view as some of the most romantic, exciting and sexy portraits. My roller-coaster photographic career has spanned nearly 3 decades from LA to London, Paris & Berlin, Costa Rica & Switzerland and has blessed me with so many other exciting arenas to shoot in other than weddings and portraits. I’ve had the opportunity to photograph rock bands! Some of my favourite bands that I’ve shot so far have been Duran Duran (A dream come true and yes I’m a die-hard Duranie AND stuck in the 80′s!), DJ John B, Orgy, Gary Numan, Robyn, Limp Bizkit, Suicide Machines, People Mover out of the UK and more.

Being a bit of an adrenaline junkie, I’ve also had the opportunity to photograph extreme sports – where you would regularly find me hanging off of vert ramps, in mosh pits during events like; The Van’s Warped Tour and getting crashed into by extreme sports athletes at The Winter & Summer X Games. All of this craziness eventually took me on the road, touring as the official photographer for the National Inline Skate Series. My photography & writing has been published in various inline skating magazines around the world in French, German, Spanish and English.
In my free time, I enjoy giving motivational speeches to socio-economically challenged elementary schools, doing presentations about the art & science of photography in high schools & colleges and donate my time to charitable organizations like the JCC in Long Beach.

The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!
The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!