The phone call I’ve been waiting for—a brand has asked me to shoot a series of images for posting on their blog. One caveat: they want me to sign an agreement assigning my copyright to them. Should I assign my copyright to the brand?
Another scenario—while casually searching the Internet, I come across a blog with several of my photos. I was never asked permission and there is no acknowledgement that they are my photographs. The photographs have been reproduced without my permission. What do I do?
Photographers and food bloggers are facing more copyright issues than ever. It’s important to understand what is protected by copyright, what you as the photographer/food blogger may own and what to do when someone either approaches you to use your work or—much worse— uses your images without your permission.
Photographs Are Protected Copyright Works
Under the Canadian Copyright Act, photographs are protected just like any other artistic works such as sculptures, paintings, drawings and engravings. Whether you take the photo on your smart phone or with your camera, that image is protected under Canadian copyright law. What does this mean? How long does copyright protection last? Do you need to register your images with a government office? What rights do you have in your images? What do you do if you catch others using your images without your permission?
Below is a “beginner’s guide.” First, read the information and get thinking about how you as the copyright owner of your images should be protecting them under copyright law. Then, dig even deeper and start thinking about what you are not doing to protect your copyrights and how you could better benefit from Canadian copyright law. Keep in mind that this is not legal advice and the information below is a much simplified version of the complicated Canadian copyright law.
Registering Photograph Copyright In Canada
Once a photograph is taken it is automatically protected by copyright. There is no need to register it or even use a copyright symbol on it. How then do you protect the copyright in your images? You can register the copyright with the Canadian Copyright Office. In fact, you can register your copyright in several images in one registration to save you both paperwork and money. Registration will provide you with some proof that you created the images in question and are the first copyright owner in them. You can register images at any time—but best to do so earlier rather than later as that can help you provide proof of ownership of copyright in the images at the earliest date possible. Information on registering your copyrights with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office can be found here.
Who Owns Your Images?
Due to recent changes to Canadian copyright law, there are two answers to this question. For any images taken on November 7, 2012 and after, the photographer/author is the first owner of the copyright in the photograph. For photographs taken before November 7, 2012, the first owner of the copyright in the photograph is the person who owns the negative or other plate at the time that negative or other plate was made; if there is no negative or other plate, the author is the first owner of the copyright in the photograph at the time that photograph was made. This should cover most of your food and ingredients photos on your blogs. (Commissioned photographs is a topic unto itself.)
Rights in Your Images
So what does ownership of the copyright in your images mean? Whether you register your copyrights or not, the Canadian Copyright Act provides you with specific rights. These rights include the right to reproduce your images on a blog, print them in a book and otherwise use them for purposes of your own choosing.
These are (for the most part) rights that you can put out into the marketplace and negotiate payment for. So, let’s return to the brand scenario with which we started this blog: Should you assign your rights to a brand? That’s a business question. How much are they offering to pay you? And is it worth it? Because once you assign those rights, you have no rights to use those same photographs, ever again; an assignment of rights transfers all of your rights to the brand. Another option is to license your photographs to the brand—allow, for example, exclusive use on the brand website for a six month period for a specified amount of money. Or make it nonexclusive so you can license the same images to others (or use them on your own blog) during that same time period. Hopefully you can now see why whether or not to assign your rights to a brand is a business decision!
What Is The Length Of Copyright?
You have these rights for your entire life, and then your heirs continue to have these rights for fifty years after your death (until December 31 of that year). So if you die on January 15, 2014, the copyright expires in all of your images (even if you have transferred/assigned the copyright to someone else) on December 31, 2064.
What If Someone Uses My Photos Without My Permission?
There are no 100 percent methods of ensuring that only those who have your permission will reproduce your images. Always include a copyright symbol and notice so others are aware that copyright exists in your images. Many people think that anything found online and in blogs is free for the taking—let your blog readers know (gently know) that this is not true. Have a copyright link or page on your blog where you can discuss copyright protection in your images, and let your readers know how to find you to obtain permission. Register your images with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. Do Google (or other) searches for your images on a regular basis, so you can monitor who is using them and email these sites and let them know that their use is unauthorized. Follow up with a lawyer if need be.
You work hard to take beautiful images—work as hard to protect the rights you have in those images.
Those Are My Images on My Blog: Ask Me For Permission Before Using Them! was written by Lesley Ellen Harris. Lesley is a lawyer, educator and author. She is the author of Canadian Copyright Law, Fourth Edition - a book that explains copyright law in plain English. Lesley edits The Copyright Newsletter - a newsletter that provides practical information and news about copyright law for those who use and create content. Lesley blogs on copyright and licensing issues at Copyrightlaws.com and also blogs specifically on Canadian copyright issues at www.canadiancopyrightlaw.ca. Follow her on Twitter@Copyrightlaws.
The content of this post is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice; consult a lawyer should you need legal advice.
© 2014 Lesley Ellen Harris. For permission to reproduce or repost this post, email firstname.lastname@example.org.