December brought me an interesting mix of battles over intellectual property.
Background: toward the end of my first year in business as a photographer, I was at a friend’s house for a Christmas party and was surprised to see one of my images on the ‘fridge. I had spent considerable time and energy on that image at the client’s request. The client never purchased the image, but rather made an illegal scan and uploaded it to Shutter-fly to create a card. I’ll never forget that feeling — considerable time and talent rewarded with a kick-in-the-gut rather than by compensation, proper acknowledgement or even thanks.
I responded by getting smart on protecting myself so that I might never see a repeat of that experience. I began to watermark my images, both visibly and with embedded digital code. I protect myself by registering my images with the U.S. Copyright office. Yes, even my personal/Instagram images are registered.
Since that first experience, I’ve learned not to internalize the fight. Once, in Northern Virginia, I took my son to a barber shop for a haircut and the sweet lady who cut his hair had photos of her cute kid-clients taped to her mirror — one of them being a reproduction of a proof print I’d sent to a client. That time, I let it roll off; the offending client left my watermark intact.
People feign ignorance about copyright infringement, but in this day and age, it’s hard for me to believe one hasn’t noticed the gazillion times he or she checks the copyright permission box to upload to Facebook, YouTube, Google+ or download a video or song from any myriad of peer-to-peer sites (isn’t skirting copyright law the whole point of users on those sites?)
As I battle websites infringing on my registered trademark, publications that publish my images without payment and private individuals who obtain and distribute my images without permission, the wicked expense of a federal copyright infringement is the strong heavyweight in my corner.