Photographers and videographers need to maintain their rights to their work and protect it against unfair use through some form of copyright. Their images are their livelihoods and a part of their toolbox as much as their equipment. (Gregory Rowe/Fast Draw Media)
Looking at his images, one can see a high level of dedication to the art and craft of photography. Often presented in a subdued manner, the people and events in his photographs don’t seem like flat still images, but rather moments of emotion and movement frozen for all time.
David Cheney, who owns a photography business bearing his name in Greenville, Texas, has been in the business for four years and wants to protect the images he works so hard to produce.
In talking to his legal representation, Cheney understands the photographer maintains rights to his images both in a digital format and for printing purposes from the time the image is created. He uses a copyright notice on his website, but he said he has not registered his site with the U.S. Copyright Office, nor registered any individual images up to this point.
In showing his work to potential clients on his website, Cheney said he uses “a Flash website to help control random downloads” while maintaining the quality of his work for people to see. He said he also uses metadata tags in his images that help him control how photos are downloaded off the site.
“I also have a password-protected proofing area on my website for clients to look at to keep the access limited,” he said.
“I have been surprised at how well professional photo printers, even Wal-Mart, helps photographers protect their work,” he said.
Cheney said he had one client, in the early days of his business when he basically turned all of the images over to the client for a set fee, which attempted to make prints at Wal-Mart.
“They called me and wanted my verbal permission before they would make the prints,” he said.
For this reason, Cheney said he began releasing certain specified rights to photos he takes. He said he includes the printing and use rights for up to 15 images he takes in the photo and portrait packages he offers clients, but retains the right to use the photos for marketing and display purposes. The release form he uses includes both an agreement for the client’s use of the 15 images, as well as a release clause for his future use of the images.
Cheney said he does want to protect his work, but also sees a need to balance client goodwill and marketing of his product with the need to copyright his work.
“Most of what I do with portraits and weddings is pretty personal,” he said. “In four years, I haven’t had any trouble with people downloading and using random images off my site.”
He did say he began offering a print package of the released images for clients to maintain quality control over his work after he noticed an early client print photos on standard copy paper with a bad color ink cartridge. He said he didn’t want to have is name associated with poor quality printing, which he sees as being as big a deal as protecting his investment in his work through copyright and fair use agreements.
Cheney admits that as his business grows, he will need to seek the advice of a legal professional in maintaining control over the distribution and use of his work.
And, judging from the images on his site, he may need to do that sooner than later.