Image ownership

Posted by on Feb 14, 2011 in Art, Blog, Photography | No Comments

I wish I didn’t feel compelled to write on this particular topic but I can’t get it off my mind. The subject is image copyright. This could have a little something to do with someone claiming complete ownership over several thousand of my images.

The basis of the claim was that I simply took photos of performance art. Performance art that incorporated the culmination of a number of brilliantly, talented creative artists in the realm of performance, lighting, sound, costume, set design, etc (which is all true). Apparently all I did was press a button on a mechanical device which does not constitute art in any way.

(Even though photographers who work in the field will tell you the combination of extremely low light and fast, leaping bodies make this style of photography one of the most difficult, not taking into account the feel, timing and artistic interpretation skills required, nor the thousands of dollars of specialist equipment needed).

Seemingly it was only the content of the image that made the photos “stunning”, “gorgeous”, etc. And, furthermore, this is “just how it is” in the industry of performance art – the company presenting the show automatically owns all the images because of this theory of ‘art’ versus ‘mere capture’. This may be shocking news to any photographers out there who have undertaken similar photographic projects?!!

The good news is that these claims are incorrect (and, to be honest, I found them a little offensive, though apparently this is just because I am overly-sensitive??). Thankfully, the Australian law in this situation is pretty straightforward. The person who takes a photo has immediate, free and automatic copyright over the image taken.

There are a few exclusions such as wedding photos and personal/family portraits (unless the photographer and client negotiate otherwise). And, yes, if the photographer and client (or subject of the photo) have a prior written agreement establishing copyright and usage licensing outside the law then this obviously becomes the agreement.

And that’s pretty much it folks. Though it’s perhaps not as simple as that. Photography and the use of the resulting images also involves a hefty dose of trust, by all parties involved.

The photographer should be mindful of the subject represented in any images and use/exhibit/publish them respectfully with credit, where appropriate. Likewise, if the subject of the images (or ‘client’) has copies of the images they should respect the wishes of the photographer and copyright laws and only use the images as licensed, agreed or at the very least in a respectful manner (ie. crediting the photographer).

So where does this leave me with my dilemma? I’m not sure as yet. I’ve been more than reasonable and generous with my offerings to the client and explained the basic copyright laws and I can only hope this is enough – I hope to hear back from them soon.

Whatever the result, it is a lesson learned in ensuring an agreement is signed before any images are taken…because trust is clearly not always enough.

Yours signed on the dotted line…

x Andy

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