Saturday, August 27, 2005

Copyright issues

I can't believe the number of people who still don't understand the fundamentals of copyright. Daily I see copyright being abused. Mostly it's due to ignorance. So here's the short and sweet of it.

If you write something that comes out of your own head or if you take a picture of something then you own the copyright. That means nobody can reproduce or copy what you've done without your permission. Simple right? Apparently not. I see the things people have written, for example the lyrics to a song, copied and placed in someone else's text without the slightest attempt to attribute where the original came from. Why do so many people try to pass other authors work off as their own? To get back to the crux of the matter. You make something of your own, then it's yours. But beware.

There are the exceptions. If your picture features someone else's image and it forms the major part of your image then you've probably infringed their copyright. For example if you photograph a billboard and a viewer can't see from your photograph that you've actually taken a picture of a billboard then you've infringed the original photographer's copyright. However, if your main subject is a person walking in front of the billboard then you will not have infringed copyright as the billboard is just part of the urban landscape and your picture is about the person walking past.

The best way in layman's terms to understand when you've infringed copyright is to ask yourself whether someone viewing your image would reasonably conclude that you're the author of the main subject matter of the picture. It comes down to common sense. Have you copied something from someone else or is what you've done completely your own idea? Or put another way, are you taking credit for someone else's work.

I've tried to explain it simply but if you want to get into the legal side then check out these sites:
You can register your works with this service to protect copyright but please note you do not have register anything anywhere to own copyright. Copyright is automatically yours by law when you create something.
USA readers may find this site helpful. The principles apply to the UK too.
This is one of the UK's official government supported websites containing a wealth of information on intellectual property rights.

Generally I steer well clear of advertising products but this book may be of use to UK photographers. I have not bought a copy so cannot vouch for it but take a look at their website and decide for yourself whether you think it would be of use to you.

If you have any questions I will, as always, do my best to answer them.

Paul Indigo
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