Copyright in Photography
There are a tremendous number of myths surrounding photography copyright, mostly due to incorrect or inaccurate interpretations of copyright law and how it applies to the internet. It only takes one person to pass on information that they were told is correct and it will spread like wildfire across the world wide web. A copyright basically allows the author of a photograph (the person who took it) control over how that picture is copied, transmitted and reproduced. Copyright issues have become more commonplace since the advent of both digital cameras and the internet because people now have far more freedom and flexibility when they share images, and it is all too easy to post an image that you do not own any form of copyright to on the internet and reproduce it in digital form many times without consent of the person who took the original image.
One of the more common misconceptions about photograph copyright is that if you are not charging for a photograph then there is no copyright violation taking place. This is simply incorrect, all this will actually affect is the amount of damages that can be awarded in court, not the actual judgement of the crime itself. If your photographs are being reproduced on the internet without your permission but the person doing the reproducing is not charging for them then it will probably never end up in a court room as any legal advice you solicit will forward a cease and desist order noting the breaking of copyright to the person doing the reproducing. Court action will only be taken if they choose to ignore the cease and desist order.
Another common misconception is that unless you label your photograph somehow with your name and an official © style copyright notice then you have no copyright. This again is simply not true in the vast majority of countries around the world and hasn't been since 1989. Since you are the original author and you took the photograph then the work contains your copyright and you retain the rights to the image even if it is unlabelled. Likewise if you are going to use someone elses photographs just because they aren't tagged or watermarked doesn't mean they have no copyright, you can safely assume that every photograph on the internet is copyrighted somehow and obtain the authors permission before you attempt to reproduce it anywhere. Likewise the notion that by using pictures that are not yours you are simply providing free advertising is false. Whilst the owner of the photographs may see it that way and not take any action it is up to them to decide if they even want the advertising and henceforth you still must contact the original photographer and obtain their permission no matter how noble your cause. You should also remember that because copyright law is more in the domains of civil law than criminal law any copyright violations will probably result in the person committing the offence being sued rather than criminal charges. The rules for civil copyright cases are very different to criminal cases.
One of the worst misconceptions is that if you post your works in a public place such as an internet forum then because you are publishing it into the public domain that people can simply take your work and reproduce it and copyright law doesn't apply (many seem to be under the impression that be placing something in the public domain you waive your copyright). This is also untrue, unless you as the photographer specifically state “I place these images in the public domain for free use by anyone” then you still retain all copyright to your images. You can also be safely assured that the notion that a computer makes a copy by simply viewing the page does not stand up in court; in copyright law a computer does not make a copy, a person does. Whilst this is not technically true what the law is allowing for is you to view an image that has been posted on the internet and that is all, i.e you are not allowed to do anything with the copy that was made when you viewed the web page or forum, which it is assumed will eventually be deleted when you clear your internet history. Remember though that by posting your photographs explicitly into the public domain you loose all of your copyright and anyone can reproduce them and put their own name on them and there is nothing at all that you can do about it.
Copyright law is there to protect your images and prevent you taking credit for other peoples work. If you just apply a little bit of common sense when working with images on the internet you will not run into any hiccups and you will be fully protected should a nefarious individual decide to flout copyright law and reproduce your images for their own purposes.