Digital Art Work

by William Lulow

I recently read about the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam that has been digitizing many of its famous paintings (hi res images) in order to make them available on line at no cost. It’s an interesting take on the digital world of today. Images, even famous ones are available virtually for nothing. As photographers, we all know that it’s impossible to monitor every single download of images that we put on our websites. There is probably quite a bit of it going on that we would never see. It’s not like the music business where we have ASCAP and BMI monitoring airplay and licensing issues. If you run a small studio somewhere and you just happen to photograph someone of note, you would probably watermark the image, post it in lo-res and certainly append your metadata containing copyright information, etc. Then you would have to leave it to whomever would want to copy or use the image to get in touch with you for permission.

I have actually had that happen. Back when I did some assignments for PEOPLE MAGAZINE, Time/Life wanted to re-use some of the pictures. They just sent me notification with a check and that was that! Most reputable organizations would see this as the normal way to conduct business with an artist. But, it raises the issue of how much of this is taking place today.

I normally still use lo-res images on my website but occasionally I upload hi-res images for one reason or another, so other than my actually seeing an unauthorized use, I really have no recourse. The Chinese are hacking into our country’s military computers after all. How can we stop other un-authorized uses of our images?

Perhaps the notion of digital images on the internet needs to change in some way. Artists may need to find other ways of being reimbursed for their art. That’s what I’m investigating currently. In the meantime, photographers need to make sure their images are actually copyrighted. You can lump a number of files together and copyright them as one image (which is the most economical way to do it). The cost would be prohibitive doing one image at a time. Or, you can decide which images in your collection are most likely to be copied and copyright those only. It used to be that a copyright stamp on an image would be enough to show “intent to copyright.” And that would usually hold up in court. Not so sure about this these days. But attaching metadata definitely shows ownership in an image.BigBenCopyright

I have also copyrighted each page on my website and have published disclaimers to the effect that nothing on the site can be used without my permission. Some photographers also put watermarks on each of their copyrighted images to prevent any unauthorized use. All of the above precautions are necessary in today’s marketplace.