Almost every professional creative has come into contact with some violation of their copyright at least once over the course of their professional career. While copyright is an omnipotent presence in the creative industry, it can be an almost headache-inducing topic to concern yourself with and many professional creatives don’t take the time to familiarise themselves with copyright law until they need to.
How did we get here?
The world’s first copyright law can be traced back to the Statute of Anne, enacted in England in 1710. This statute introduced the basic concept of an author of a written work being the owner of the copyright to that work, and laid out fixed terms of protection. To have this statute be applicable to one’s published works, an author had to deposit a copy of these at a specific copyright library and register them at the Stationers Hall.
While the basic concept of copyright as defined by the Statute of Anne slowly made it’s way into legislation around the world (for example in the Copyright Act of 1790 in the United States), the first concepts of internationally binding copyright laws did not appear until the late 19th century. In 1886, the Berne Convention was introduced, which for the first time provided a system for mutual recognition of copyright among its member states. With the adoption of the treaty by the US in 1988, the Berne Convention had finally established an international copyright system, applicable in 140+ countries worldwide.
One of the biggest changes the Berne convention introduced was to shift the concept of copyright application from solely registered works to all creative works of a creator – registered and unregistered, published and unpublished.
Copyright in the creative industry
While copyright infringement of written works is a huge problem still in today’s world, image content has grown to be the main focus of copyright lawyers around the world. This is due to the multi-faceted nature of an image in comparison to written content – it’s simply not that easy to determine what constitutes an infringement of the copyright of an image.
Take for example the Fielder vs. New English Teas Ltd case from 2012: The British photographer Justin Fielder took an image of a typical London tourist bus traveling across Westminster Bridge and edited it so that everything apart from the distinctively red coloured bus is black and white. The image was being used for souvenir articles.
While being aware of the existence and copyright of the original image, New English Teas Ltd. decided to use an image depicting more or less the same scene, with the same kind of editing applied, on their packaging for their range of British teas.
The case was taken to court, and while the defendants could prove that they did not make use of the originally captured image at all, the judges ruled in favour of Justin Fielder. This was a landmark decision as it determined that not only is the capturing of a photograph an act of creation but the end result of any subsequent work applied to it is a copyrightable object as well.
There’s plenty more famous cases of copyright infringement within the creative industry, like the Morel vs. Getty case from 2013. While cases like these ones are heavily publicised, they represent only a very tiny fraction of the bigger issue that’s happening across the world. It’s estimated that roughly 3 billion images are shared on the internet every day, out of which a whooping 85% are used without a license. As the internet grows and platforms like Instagram and Facebook make it easier to share images online, the daily number of images shared without a valid license can only be expected to grow exponentially.
What can I do about it?
As a professional creative, pursuing copyright infringement cases can be cumbersome, but it’s an important part of building your own brand and controlling the framing and environment your works appear in to make sure they get the right kind of attention. Most cases of your images being used online will most likely be within personal usage of an individual, meaning they are not aiming to gain commercial value out of using your work. In these cases, it makes sense to reach out to the person and explain your copyright of the content and ask them to take the content down.
On the other hand, if you are seeing your works being used without a valid license in a commercial fashion you can opt to sue the company or person behind the infringement for damages or loss of potential profits due to their use of your work. Copyright infringement in a commercial use case is a serious matter and due to the Berne Convention it is being treated as one in most parts of the world nowadays.
But wait – How do I find all uses of my work online?
With 3 billion images shared daily on the internet it is obviously unimaginable to even try to look for your works online consistently. Thankfully, with modern image recognition technology it’s easier than ever to track your work across all of the internet and get notified in real-time about it.
Our partner Pixsy offers a full-fledged suite to monitor and protect your images online.
You can easily connect your Instagram and other social media accounts as well as upload your works from your hard drives. Pixsy will immediately start crawling the web for usage of your content and display results within seconds. If you spot a potential infringement of your copyright, you can send DMCA Takedown notices with a single click and even pass over the case to Pixsy’s legal team should your work appear to be used in a commercial use-case. Pixsy has handled more than 80.000 cases so far, returning millions of dollars to the creative industry.
Pixsy is partnering with Cherrydeck to bring advanced image tracking to our community of professional photographers on Instagram. Members of the Cherrydeck Full Membership get to use the Pixsy ‘Personal’ plan for free for 1 year, saving you $228. And our free members get 50% off of any of their plans.
Not a Cherrydeck Member yet? Apply here to get access to our partnership deals, and much more! 🍒