Copyright is always a contentious issue especially amongst event photographers as it so directly affects their livelihood. Personally I understand that a lot of people simply do not understand how copyright works and how if they do infringe it, it affects a photographer. Because of that I am always of the belief that there needs to be better education rather than arguments so let me take a few minutes of your time and hopefully explain what you can and can’t do and in turn how it affects photographers.
Firstly that fantastic photo you bought at last weekend’s event of you and your horse flying over that huge XC jump? It’s yours now isn’t it because you paid for it and now you can share it with all your friend’s on Facebook? Well no it isn’t, well not exactly! When you purchased the print of the photo that is exactly what you brought the print. Not the image of you and not the right to copy or share the image which is essentially known as the ‘copyright’ which the photographer will almost always retain.
So when you buy the print and you want to share it on Facebook what should you do? Very simply ask the photographer at the time of purchase, 99% of photographers will allow you to use the photo for non commercial reasons (i.e. Facebook or non commercial personal websites) as long as you ask and put a credit to them when posting because you have already purchased the print. Some photographers offer small jpeg images which are not large enough to print but suitable for posting online at a very reasonable cost, and others will post a copy to their Facebook page which you can share if you have purchased a print.
But the photo is of me surely I have a right to it? No you don’t, well not under UK law anyway. By attending a public event and knowing a photographer is on site you photographers are free to take and publish images of you. Most photographers if asked will not take photos of you, or will remove any from their site, but they are not generally required to do so. The exception would be that under the Data Protection Act photographs can be considered personal data which means you can object to a photo being online if the photo is offensive, derogatory or causes damage or distress. For this reason realistically you would be unlikely to have legal retort against the event photographer, and if you were able to meet the requirements of the act, you could only request its removal/deletion, you would still not own rights to the image.
What if I want to use the photo you purchased for commercial reasons i.e. selling my horse or marketing my riding skills? In this situation most photographers will ask that you effectively buy the copyright from them or pay a licence fee. The cost will heavily depend on the photographer and whether they are providing the original hi resolution image or not. Expect to pay in the region of £15+ per image minimum although some will be happy with just a credit next to the photo. If though you are a business wanting to use the photo you can expect this fee to be higher as it will not be for a one off advert.
But the photographer has put ‘watermarked’ images on their website/Facebook you’re ok to copy those aren’t you as the watermark is free advertising for them? No you’re not, even though the image is watermarked and the image is of you, you are not entitled to copy or reproduce the image and doing so is breaking copyright law.
But what about the photo the amateur photographer has uploaded to Facebook, it doesn’t have a watermark therefore there is no copyright right? Wrong! Even though posted in the public domain and without a visible copyright unless the copyright holder expressly states you can use the image, you cannot do so legally. Like it, share it, yes, but save it, copy it, upload it to a separate album, no.
But realistically what can a photographer do about it if I do copy the photos illegally? They can send you a bill for use of the images without permission, this can be above and beyond the price you would have paid for the image originally, and if you do not pay they are entitled to go through the small claims court to recover the money, and trust me you do not want that against your credit rating! They can also blacklist you by not taking photos at events and share your name with other photographers who will do the same.
How will they find out though? Photographers often ‘stalk’ Facebook and the internet searching for illegal use of their and other photographers’ photos. There are even special programs which can search automatically by looking for specific information hidden inside a file. Just because you consider yourself a ‘nobody’ don’t presume you won’t be found out.
Isn’t that rather sad, why do they bother? Very simply taking photos is their livelihood and they need to make a living just like you and me. If people stop buying the photos and instead just copy them off the internet they will not make any money and will therefore go out of business. End result no more event photographers and no more professional photos of you, it really is that simple!
A good general rule is if a photograph is good enough for you to warrant wanting to share it with others then it is good enough to pay for. Most photographers now offer digital low res images perfect for social media use at very reasonable prices. £5-7.50 for a low res image is becoming common and is the lowest a full time event photographer can go to (unless priced as an add on to another product, for example buy a print then get any other digital images for £2.50).
If you don’t like a photographer’s pricing structure ask them if there is any flexibility especially if you want multiple images, many may well be happy to offer a ‘bundle’ deal. If though you can’t afford the images right now then unfortunately you have to accept you can’t share them.
To think of it all another way if you wanted to go to a nice restaurant and you couldn’t afford it, you wouldn’t go, eat, enjoy your meal and leave without paying the bill. The ingredients may have only cost a very small amount but the chef’s and staff’s time in addition to all their other costs means they would lose a lot of money by you not paying the bill. Offering to share a review of how amazing your meal was doesn’t pay the bills. From a restaurant critic it could bring in business but from a random member of the public no.Think of your photograph as that meal.
Hopefully you will now appreciate copyright is there to protect a photographer’s livelihood and it is only by respecting that will they continue to be able to attend events rather than diversify to other markets. If you would like to read more regarding copyright there is the following Government link