Copyrights and Licensing

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A few days ago, the subject of copyright came up in the Beyond Megapixels Flickr Group discussion forum. I thought I would take the opportunity to explain some basics about copyrighting your photography work, and what different levels of licensing mean for the photos that you may wish to use in a public setting.

It is VERY IMPORTANT to adhere to copyright laws and rules. Not only is it just plan wrong to steal images for your own use without proper accreditation to the owner, it’s illegal. Illegal use of images can subject you to lawsuits, website bans, and damage your professional credibility. It’s easy enough to discover which level of licensing is associated with a photograph, if you do wish to use it for your own personal use (which will be explained in a moment). Even if the owner of the photograph has associated a full “All Rights Reserved” copyright, you can still contact them and ask them if it’s okay to use their photograph. The worst that can happen is they say, “no.”

Many people today use the Creative Commons license, which works alongside the full copyright to allow different spectrums of copyright protection – basically, it’s a “some rights reserved” copyright. It is a license that works globally, so that users don’t have to stress about the protection of their work in countries other than their own. It helps define how (if at all) your photographs can be used, and help identify you as the copyright owner of the work.

Below is a matrix of four of the six licenses available as described on the Creative Commons website. I strongly recommend that you visit the page in order to ascertain which license applies best to your needs. (And I checked, the image is protected under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, which means I can share and adapt the work as long as I credit the owner, which I have!)

Photo sharing sites such as Flickr and Photobucket have embedded Creative Commons licensing levels into their sites so that their users can determine and set the licensing level appropriate to their needs. The default setting is typically “All Rights Reserved”, but that can be modified at the account level or even at the individual picture level.

As far as copyrighting an actual printed, physical photograph, copyrighting is automatic upon creation of the work (per the Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988, an actual physical copyright symbol is no longer required for the copyright to apply). So as soon as you press the shutter on your camera, you are covered under copyright law. However, if you really want to, you can actually file a form with the U.S. Copyright Office to copyright a specific work, which would allow you to pursue punitive damages should someone violate your copyright.

For more information, Photosecrets wrote up a great FAQ on copyrighting your work, here.

I hope this information helps clarify things. Let’s respect one another’s creativity!

Image Credits (in order of appearance):
- “my CC stickers have arrived!” by laihiu on Flickr Creative Commons.
- Creative Commons Licensing Matrix, as derived from the Creative Commons website.

(As a quick side note, you’ll the posts attributed to “Laura Charon” now appearing under my actual real-life name, Tiffany Joyce. I started blogging under a pen name for anonymity’s sake back in 2000, and decided a couple of months ago to, well, just be myself!)

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  • Tom Romo

    This is one of the most helpful articles covering this subject that I have yet found. Thank you.