What is copyright? How do I protect my work? What do I do if someone asks to use my photographs? What can I do if someone uses them without asking? Why should I even care?
All these questions and more are answered here in a simple and straightforward manner and with the focus on UK law.
Thanks to the web there are now few distinctions between professional and amateur photographers. Both have the capability to show, market and distribute their work globally.
The main difference is that pro's have to be aware of intellectual property law. Their livelihood depends on earnings from their only asset, their photographs.
Amateurs often know very little about copyright. They have never had to consider such dull stuff in order to enjoy their hobby. But amateurs are increasingly working as pro's without even realising it, selling stock through agencies or displaying work where it may be seen by commercial buyers. Just like full time pro's they now need to know. Ignorance here is potentially costly and legally hazardous.
At the same time the audience for photographs has expanded to include millions of people who have no knowledge nor experience of buying the rights to use images on their websites and perhaps elsewhere. There is a widespread assumption that anything on the web is free to use; and that anyway it is impossible to catch infringers.
This too is a dangerous notion. Aside from being unfair to individual photographers, infringing copies are often easy to find thanks to the evolving technology of image recognition. Several web services search for and report infringements. Some large photo agencies have sent out legal notices for very large sums to thousands of webmasters and ordinary users. Some have been sued.
The only people who are gaining from this confusion are those who seek to take advantage of photographers. This is now a serious malaise. On the one hand presenting as photo competitions that are covert foraging expeditions for free material, and on the other, commercial publishers and clients whose greed overwhelms ethics and fairness.
This is not just a matter of money, it is about who owns photography and controls our view of our culture and history. Do photographers not have a right to say who shall use their work, for what purpose, in what context? Whose photographs are they anyway?