Thursday, March 16, 2006

"Orphan Works" action needed

Imagine risking your life to make a photograph. You go through the steps to get a proper, registered copyright. Next, imagine the photograph later appears in a national advertising campaign without your knowledge, approval or payment. Then imagine not having any legal recourse to get proper payment, damages or even legal fees.

This is the crux of a proposed "Orphan Works" amendment to the U.S. Copyright Law.

The ASMP and other organizations around the world are urging photographers and those who care about photography's future to write letters to Congress to stop this action. If it passes, it'll effectively eliminate all protections photographers currently have for images published inside the U.S.

If successful, it's possible this gutting of copyright protection could take root in other countries worldwide.

ASMP has produced a detailed call to action, sample letter and congressional fax contact information. Although faxes are harder to ignore than e-mails, you can also e-mail your congressional representatives.

If we do nothing else this decade, let's stop this one action. I understand this requires time and effort. But if this amendment passes, it'll require much more time and effort later (looking for a new profession).

Folks who are new to this industry or still in college have the most at stake. If this passes, advertisers and editorial markets would have no motivation to pay for images. Once an image gets published, it could become free.

This is also a great time to start blasting large national publications that run our images without credit -- although our AP instructions specifically state "mandatory credit." Under the proposed amendment, these would be "Orphan Works" and could be used for free without remedy. This alone would be enough to keep many of us from submitting any images to AP.

Consider the chilling effect this action would have on visual information. If only images published with credit lines have any protection, and some media outlets choose to change credit lines to "AP photo" (which they are not), then PJs and their media outlets would only lose money by submitting images to AP. Consequently, most won't.

Please act on this legislation before it's too late. Please also bring this issue to the attention of your directors of photography, managing editors, publishers and company attorneys.

Enough for now,

UPDATE: Sign the Pro-Copyright Petition.


Bryon Houlgrave said...

This is a very important issue, and letters should be written.

Last week I discovered one of my images on a Web site promoting tourism for a town in Utah. My photo was lifted off my Web site and used to promote something totally unrelated.

I guess the tourism board felt it was ok to pirate my image to help sell tourism packages to their resort town. I wonder how they would feel if I pirated a cut of their season-end figures. Probably not happy.

Mark M. Hancock said...

Bill them. Don't ever let anyone steal your work without payment. It only encourages them to continue stealing work.
If someone uses your work without permission you can demand whatever reasonable payment you want (ie, charge a lot). Since they chose to use it, they thought it was worth whatever you want to bill them. :-)
If they refuse and you have a registered copyright (not just the soft copyright), you can take them to court, get treble (3X) damages and legal fees.
On the Net, you can contact their hosting service and have the site pulled down for copyright infringement.
Note, all of this advice will be meaningless if this amendment passes.

Marie said...

I already refuse to submit photos to AP because a couple of the larger papers in our region refuse to credit the photographer. The 'AP Photo' credit pisses me off when they expect me to freeze my rear off and risk my photo equipment during a blizzard. Too much work for nothing.

Mark M. Hancock said...

You point out the biggest reason to sign the petition. Next, find the managing editor or editor(-in-chief)'s name on their Web site. Then, copy how they ran the image. Send the copy along with a copy of the AP transmission that states "mandatory credit" and an invoice.
It may not get paid without some serious arm twisting, but they won't run your stuff without credit again. If they're silly enough to do so, then tack it onto the statement and build up a massive amount and notify AP (and an copyright lawyer).