Thursday, April 9, 2009

"C" is for "Character"

Port Townsend, today. Eventually I was bound to hit upon the touchy subject of copyright violations on the Internet. And it comes at a time when I accidentally discovered a blog in which several of my photographs were posted.

Now let me be perfectly clear. If a person were to link to one of my photographs, and give me credit, no harm, no foul. This because he/she is not intimating that they are the persons responsible for taking the picture.

It would be nice to receive an email from the person connecting the link as an expression of common courtesy. After all, there may be cases where I am being linked to a right wing conservative site that I'd rather not be associated with!

I have routinely linked to photos that I have found on the Internet, as you may have noticed, when I want to show you a locomotive that I shot as she was later renumbered, rebuilt, or under new ownership. But I have left the photograph intact exactly as you would find it on any quality search engine, when you click the link I provide. If it is a RailroadPictureArchives photo, which most are, I present the entire web page, unedited. You can readily see that it was not I, but someone else who took the photograph.

Other photos I have used I have specifically requested permission to include them in a blog article. For example, I am working on a three part series on a Canadian operation that I have requested permissions to use certain photographs. As I receive permissions via email, I keep in my resource file.

There is no ambiguity or vagueness about what is covered by copyright law. If you held the camera that contained the film that was exposed to a locomotive, you are, in fact, the copyright holder. Period.

The photograph does not need to be engraved with copyright circle "C", or "Copyright," or any of the creative variations folks have come up with to try to protect their original works.

The downside to that is, you have no recourse under Copyright law to sue or claim damages.

The next level of protection has you inscribing the photo with the copyright symbol - "circle c" - or the “Copyright” with year and name – “Copyright 2008, RD McDonald,” as example.

You still have no recourse under Copyright law to sue or claim damages. All you can hope to accomplish is that the casual rip-off person will shy away from entanglement. The hard-core rip-off person will not be dissuaded.

A lot has changed since I last filed a copyright application. Now it can be all accomplished on line from completing the form, deposit of visual work and payment of fee ($35.00 for a basic single work.)

See Title 17, paragraph 411 to learn what remedies are available to you provided you have filed appropriate registration with the Copyright Office.

The highest level of protection –filing with the US Copyright Office - gives you legal recourse to sue and recover damages in a court of law.

The most common situation is filing to protect a photograph or slide. See Circular 40a for all the works that can be protected, from tee-shirt designs to digital photographs. Referred to as Visual Arts Materials, Form VA is required.

To cover an entire collection, you need to file form VA – GR/PPh/CON which requires a copy of every photograph in the collection be submitted. See the form for submission requirements.

So remember, to have anything meaningful in the way of protection, you have to have filed form VA, paid the fee, and sent a copy of the photograph to the Copyright Office. Then you need the legal resources to develop an actionable case, and the staying power to follow through.

Where does this leave the rest of with who cannot afford the luxury of filing copyright forms for every photograph? And all the hassle of a legal action?

In my case, I not only confronted the violator – who never responded to my emails – but also filed a complaint with PhotoBucket. You can download the forms you need to file to get illegal copies off their system.

It is fast. I filed last week by mail, and was notified today that PhotoBucket went into his collection and removed said photo!

Blogger also uses similar forms that you can download. Like PhotoBucket, they request you file by snail mail, I guess because you need to sign the complaint, to insure authentication. I will be curious to see how fast several of my photos are removed from the violators blog.

I have had several individuals request copies of my photos. Instead of a purloined picture, they receive a lab quality Kodak glossy print, in a reasonable span of time, for a reasonable cost.

In the final analysis, I guess it boils down to a matter of a man’s character. My Dad explained “character” to me as “As being able to do the right thing, even if no one is watching over you.” A person with little or no character will rip you off – make copies of your photos without permission. Who knows what other character flaws are exhibited by such person. You would never want to invite them in your home!

So perhaps that letter “C” with a circle around it can be an aide memoire of “character?”

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