I am a dedicated daily reader of the online forums, APAnet and APAdigital. I was following a discussion thread in one of them when it came to an abrupt and final end. That was because, after all the talking around the subject, one person made a few succinct points that got to the heart of the topic and then, everyone finally “got it.” The writer was Jeff Sedlik and when he talks, people (better) listen.
First, the online forums, APAnet and APAdigital are (as the site says:)
“dedicated exclusively to professionals discussing advertising, stock, and corporate photography. Both forums are acclaimed internationally by participants. Non-APA professionals, assistants, and students are welcome and invited to join. “
That last line is important because anyone can read and participate in the forums, even if you are not a professional photographer or a member of APA. Some organizations believe it best to share information with everyone, in order to benefit the entire marketplace. APA is one of them. Broadly speaking APAnet focuses on business issues and APAdigital focuses on digital technology questions. I read them daily and learn more from these two forums than the other five that I read each day.
Read more and sign up at: http://www.apanational.com/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3279
A thread on either forum begins with a posted question and then usually meanders around with a variety of speculative and half-baked answers. Finally someone with authority speaks up, and then the issue is settled. If the question involves the law and copyright issues, long time readers know to wait for Jeff Sedlik’s answer. Jeff Sedlik is now the President & CEO of the PLUS Coalition: According to their site:
The PLUS Coalition is an international non-profit initiative on a mission to simplify and facilitate the communication and management of image rights. Organized by respected associations, leading companies, standards bodies, scholars and industry experts, the PLUS Coalition exists for the benefit of all communities involved in creating, distributing, using and preserving images.
Read more at www.useplus.org The PLUS Coalition is an important organization that I encourage other to support and utilize.
In his earlier life, Jeff was, according to his site:
“known for his riveting portraits of music and entertainment personalities. Based in Los Angeles and New York City, Sedlik specializes in photography for the advertising and entertainment industries. Sedlik’s editorial work frequently appears on the covers of major magazines, and his original prints have attracted the attention of art collectors worldwide. He is also the past National President of the Advertising Photographers of America and serves on numerous boards. Sedlik is a professor and long-time faculty member of the Art Center College of Design, teaching courses on technical, creative, and business topics. “
See also: http://www.sedlik.com/
I will not detail the entire thread I was reading on the forum but let me paraphrase the best points. A poster asked why, if he was not famous or successful as a photographer, he should register his images with Library of Congress.
(Now, I need to add that since 2001 I have registered every single image I have produced with Library of Congress. I have long encouraged my students, aspiring and accomplished photographers to do the same. You can read more about the whole world of copyright questions by starting at: http://thewellspoint.com/about/resources-copyright/ )
Jeff encouraged the photographer who posted the question to continue registering as he had already been doing. Then Jeff, who has training as a lawyer, walked us through what happens if the images were used without permission and the photographer attempts to resolve the matter with the infringer. Jeff took the readers through important parts of the law, including how damages are calculated, etc. He explains the issues involved not speculating on actual dollar figures.
Then he goes through something of a mock dialogue between the photographer’s lawyer and the infringer’s lawyer. As each question is answered (assuming the photographer did his or her homework and has a perfect paper trail) the infringer’s lawyer is slowly becoming cornered.
Then Jeff’s unstated point hit me. The contents of the images are not the biggest issue in such a case. Similarly, the “professional” status of the photographer is also not a major issue. To a large degree, a photographer’s ability to resolve a copyright infringement hinges on whether or not the infringed image was registered on a timely basis. Meaning, if I register my work, as I do, and if my work is used without my permission, a timely registration is can be invaluable to my attempts to resolve the matter amicably, and avoid a lawsuit. And if the infringer is not cooperative, the registration makes attorneys fees and statutory damages available to me, which will allow me to proceed with litigation, as the last resort. The best option is almost always to negotiate reasonable compensation and settle the matter. The registration gives me the leverage to do that.
That is a simplistic summary of a long discussion thread, but the point is the same. It does not matter who you are as a photographer, nor does it matter what your photographs show. Whether in negotiations or in court, a timely registration is the key to your ability to be compensated for the unauthorized use of your work. Your work must be registered either before the infringement first occurs, or within 3 months of first publication.
Knowing that all of my work is registered gives me peace of mind. I know that if my work is infringed my registrations will be the key to a quick resolution and to reasonable compensation.
This is not intended to simply flatter Jeff Sedlik. It is intended to point out that there are people who know the real answers to serious questions. Your uncle the lawyer or your friend the established professional, they are nice people. But what they do NOT know about the BUSINESS of photography CAN hurt you.