My first Magazine - Page 12

Image Theft, Photo Plagiarism, and Copyright!

With billions of photographs being available so widely all over the World Wide Internet, it is not uncommon to see not only individuals, but also companies using other people’s work for their own benefit.

In some cases, theft is loud and clear, with images being used without any permission, and in other cases, images are stolen and altered and manipulated in Photoshop to create something vastly different.

Should photography only be allowed to display reality, or is it acceptable to alter images for presentation purposes? And if manipulation is acceptable, what are its limits, if any? These are very hard questions to answer, but with some common sense, we can create a set of ethical rules and guidelines that should help photographers in determining what’s acceptable and what’s not.

What about situations, where a photographer borrows another photographer’s idea and perspective to get a very similar, if not near identical shot? Now this one is a topic of endless debates, one capable of sparking huge arguments on both sides of the game.

Firstly we will discuss copyright law. Copyright only applies to physically manifested work; this can be in the form of a photograph or a digital file. It does not apply to a thought or idea or concept for an image. Whoever ‘reduced such ideas into material form’ will then be the person holding the rights to that work regardless of whether or not it was their concept. The person who holds the rights to an image is therefore its creator, and does not need to be the person responsible for pressing the shutter release on the camera specifically, but rather the person responsible for the artistic input, which includes styling, lighting, sets and composition.

Where South African law differs from international law is in the line “commissioned photographs are owned by the commissioner (client)” This means freelance photographers have no rights to their work. This is a contentious issue that may be covered in further articles and forums. But fortunately this issue can be circumvented by mutual agreement, even when it takes the form of a verbal agreement. The act allows for negotiation of these default terms, and consequently any agreement negotiated comes under contract law which then overrides the Copyright Law.

Copyright is automatic; you do not need to take any action to ensure your photograph is protected by the law. Adding the copyright logo to an image only serves as a reminder that the creator reserves rights on the usage of the image. Secondly, it allows interested parties to know who to contact if they want to obtain rights for an image. Marking an image with copyright information should include the copyright owner's name, the year the image was first made public or was published, the copyright symbol and which rights are reserved.