It is often said a picture is worth a thousands words. Sometimes we as self-publishers forget to consider the worth of a photograph or an image and what it contains. It is true that some photographs may not have sufficient value attached to them to qualify for copyright protection because they add nothing unique to their subject. For example, a photograph of a famous public domain painting may be considered “a slavish copy,” one that has as its purpose to make an exact reproduction of the art, to make an exact copy without adding anything unique to it. (Example of such a case.)
However, many photographs that we encounter every day on the Internet or that can be easily scanned from the publications of others and used in our print or digital publications do have the quality of uniqueness.
A common misconception among independent publishers and one that leads to frustration and failed publication projects is the one that photographs that can be easily lifted or scanned are free for the taking. Easy access and ease of use does not justify the taking in the eyes of the copyright law. Example here of a filing against someone operating under such a misconception.
A word to the wise blogger, newsletter, and e-book or print publisher: consider ownership issues related to copyright and trademark as well as privacy and publicity concerns related to any photo and to anything or anyone represented in any photos you are considering publishing.
Case in point regarding publicity and privacy issues: Rights to use a photo was purchased by a company from Flickr under a Creative Commons license and the photo appeared in an advertising campaign. The photo contained an image of a young girl. The girl’s parents sued the company, Virgin Mobile, for using the photo containing their daughter, and they sued Creative Commons because the photo was issued under their licensing scheme. Click here for the Creative Commons explanation of its arguments in the case. Although this case involves privacy issues and publicity issues and not copyright per se, the lesson for self-publishers is the same: consider all value attached to any photo.
Because pictures are at times worth more than many words, settlements and damages in cases involving infringement of a photo copyright can be quite high. Pictures can be worth much more than a thousand words. To protect yourself against infringement claims, clear copyrights before publishing photos or photo subjects with rights attached that belong to others or use a public domain photo as I have above. (This is a 1936 photo of the Dust Bowl taken by an employee of the United States Department of Agriculture.)
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