A strong example of why copyright matters

July 13th, 2012 by Alicia Calzada

We all talk about how important copyright is as a way to protect our income. However, copyright serves a greater purpose than just a revenue source. It permits the author/artist/creator to control how their work is used. Controlling the uses of your images is incredibly important.

Consider this recent case that is getting a lot of attention. Photographer Kristina Hill took an engagement photo  of a same-sex couple, which one of the grooms posted on his blog. A conservative group then stole the image and turned it into an anti-gay attack ad, targeting a politician for her vote in support of same sex unions.

The original photo by Kristina Hill

The mailer including the stolen, digitally manipulated photograph.

The couple, obviously was distressed. One of the men wrote in a blog post, “I’m in shock and I’m angry and I’m hurt and I’m flabbergasted and I’m livid.” Given all that his community had been through to legalize gay marriage, he was angry that “someone, a stranger, will seek out your image on the internet… steal it and use it in an attempt to destroy others who support you.

So here we have a photographer, whose client was clearly devastated by a use of her photo that was never intended by the photographer or the client. Whether the issue is a wedding photographer protecting her clients from a hate campaign, a wildlife photographer wanting to keep his images from being used by organizations that harm the environment, or a journalist wanting to protect a sensitive source, copyright gives photographers the power to stop such use.

Unfortunately, as much as this incident is proof of the importance of copyright protection, it is also evidence that the system is broken.  Ms. Hill told Photo District News last week that she planned to pursue it, but was uncertain whether or not she has the resources to do so, given that a lawsuit could drag on extensively. She has since obtained representation from the Southern Poverty Law Center which sent a cease and desist letter on her behalf this week. Good for her for finding a solution to protect her clients by defending her images.

If there were ever a reason to pursue an infringement, theft of a photo which vilifies your client is it. The fact that Ms. Hill was faced with the possibility of not pursuing the infringer because of the cost shows how important it is to improve the system for obtaining relief from infringement. This is why the NPPA supports a small claims solution for copyright infringement claims. Regardless of whether or not there are provable financial damages, it should not cost tens of thousands of dollars to get an injunction against uses like this.

If copyright law is not enforceable, it is virtually useless.



Posted in copyright, Copyright Small Claims, Legal, photographers, Photographers' Rights, U.S. Copyright Office | 50 Comments »

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