Copyright Confusion: Staying Within The Law

January 29, 2018
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Whether you are soaring over a huge fence or trotting down the centre line, coming home from an event with quality photographs is a great way to remember the day. However, riders are at risk of loosing this privileged as breaches of photo copyright are taking their toll.

After a long day competing, plenty of riders quickly get online to find out who the official photographer was and when can they expect to see photos, excited to see their horse in action. However, once the photos go live, the choices made by some are jeopardising the future of event photography – those copying (or effectively stealing) photos are causing more damage then they realise.

Persistent offenders can make some photographers stop attending certain venues

While the law behind image copyright may be confusing, the do’s and don’ts are basic. Simply put, unless you have paid for an image, you have absolutely no rights to it. Cameron Macdonald, owner of Macdonald Images explains, “Copyright is always a tricky issue due to the conflict between reality and practicality, but the key thing is – if in doubt, ask.”

Owner of Equus Imaging, Colin Allison continues, “The question of copyright of photographic images has always been contentious. Many people see nothing wrong with copying an image from a photographer’s gallery and posting it on social media. Some people would even say that it serves to benefit the photographer but this is rarely the case, as the Copyright Logo is invariably cropped or otherwise illegible, so the copyright owners identity is difficult or even impossible to determine.”

Online upset

Social media is still a relatively new phenomenon and isn’t necessarily beneficial to photographers, with many still trying to find methods of protecting their work since traditional watermarks are no longer effective. Cameron says, “When photographers publish online galleries, after an event or private photoshoot, the images are usually covered by a watermark. This covers two aspects – one to make it clear that it is a professional photograph and who ‘owns’ the copyright, and two, to stop people from copying it and publishing it elsewhere online. The original theory was that no one would want to use an image that has a watermark all over it, but the reality is that it doesn’t seem to stop online copying. This is actually a breach of copyright and photographers would be within their rights to challenge such use.”

Time not only goes into taking photos at the event, but also through processing and editing

Print ownership

When it comes to hard copy images, buying a print doesn’t remove the copyright, meaning you don’t have the right to copy and distribute the image. In simple terms, this means you cannot take a picture of the photo to print or put online.

“Even if you purchase a print from a photographer, that gives you ownership of that printed photograph, not the copyright to us it as you wish,” explains Cameron. “Print purchases generally fall into the category of ‘single-use’. So if you take a photograph of your new canvas print and put it on your Facebook page to show to your friends, this is still breach of copyright even though most people wouldn’t think so, and indeed most wouldn’t be deliberately trying to breach.”

Breaking the rules

Using an image without permission is seen as theft and photographers have the ability to sue those who fall foul. The implications of this include claims for damages, injunctions and extreme cases can carry penalties of up to two years in prison or fines of up to £50,000.

Event photographers go to an awful lot of effort to take your photo

However, most photographers prefer to start proceedings with lesser force. Melody Fisher (Melody Fisher Photography) said, “If we find photos of ours that have been stolen, we will first approach the person, mainly via private message to let them know what they have done is wrong and give them the chance to pay the cost of a digital version without our watermark – or we ask them to remove the image. If this is ignored, we are able to report the photo on Facebook, filling out a form to prove that our copyright has been breached. Facebook instantly take down the image and the offender is presented with a warning.

“Other photographers have their own methods, but I find that if someone makes this offence more than once, knowing what they are doing is wrong, then I will refuse to photograph them when I am covering any future events that they attend,” Melody continues. “It is a shame as everyone loves a photo and for a small amount of money, it goes a long way.”

What can you do?

The printed images you can purchase at a show often come with discounts for the number you buy, and in comparison to the money spent on entries and equipment, this extra cost is just a drop in the ocean. As the hardcopy images are for displaying purposes only, how about asking the photographer about buying a digital copy that you are allowed to share online. These will be cheaper than prints, unwatermarked but still very good quality. Similarly, if you find an image of yourself on social media, rather than downloading the image and uploading it on your account, why not tag yourself and share the photo to show others.

Buying a print from a show doesn’t put an end to the copyright

For those of you looking to use photographer’s images to advertise a horse for sale, you may need to purchase the images with a commercial license, as you will be using the photos for commercial gain. In these cases, it is much better to contact the photographer directly as each may have slightly different rules for their photos.

At the core of the matter, photographers attend events and competitions as they enjoy the experience and the small fees they charge cover things such as their time, travel expenses, food and equipment upgrades. Cameron adds, “The photographer taking these images is both offering a service, and trying to make a living. If people don’t buy the images they like, and choose to steal them instead, then the professionally taken images they like so much will disappear, as photographers will just stop taking them or certainly stop publishing them so widely.” The images are intended for enjoyment, so display them with pride and do your part in supporting local photographers.