Photographs and other images are protected under the laws of copyright, and the creators as copyright owners have absolute rights to control the use of their photographs. Infringers are those that violate the owners rights and can be subject to fines, destruction of the infringing work and in some cases criminal penalties and imprisonment.
With the access to so many images, via not only traditional print media, but CD-ROMS and the World Wide Web, together with the ease of copying images, manipulating and combining them with others, the rights of the copyright owners of these images are either forgotten in the excitement of the new technology, unknown due to ignorance or just ripped off because the chances of being caught are considered to be too remote. Since ignorance of the law is no excuse when it comes to copyright, and the costs of defending an infringement action are expensive, up to eighty thousand dollars or more, and the settlements or awards high, not knowing the law can be costly. And like every driver that speeds on the highway, even the information highway, there is always that chance of getting a ticket. Technology may even be your worst nightmare, the image you download for your next job may be encoded. When the piece is published, a scanner can trace the owner of the work and turn you in!
The purpose of this short essay is to debunk certain myths and arm you with the information you need to protect yourself, your job and your client from infringing the copyright of an image owner. The Copyright Act is a complex federal statute. This paper is only intended to be an overview, so you know when you should ask a few more questions before you assume an image is free. The Copyright Office publishes many Circulars, information distributed free to the public, on this subject.
One is Copyright Basics. You can obtain circulars and forms from the copyright office at their web-site, www.loc.gov/copyright or by calling The Copyright Office Forms Hotline at 202-707-9100. The Picture Agency Council of America, Inc. (PACA), a trade association of stock imagery libraries, publishes the PACA Copyright Commandments, written in plain English to inform users of copyrighted images of their responsibilities. The common documents are listed at the PACA web-site: www.pacaoffice.org