Some thoughts on copyright law – mine and others’

Tony Bynum's foot of Glacier National ParkI came across a pretty interesting discussion on copyright law today, which was sparked by photographer Tony Bynum’s post on the illegality of using photographs found on the internet and copied. Yes, that’s right: we are supposed to get permission to use photographs and custom graphics by obtaining the creator’s verbal or written authorization or by paying … because all images are somebody’s intellectual or creative property and they’re protected by a body of law known as copyright law. Images are owned by their creator or the company they were working for when an image was created.

An image you find on a website may be custom artwork that an artist associated with the site created. It could also have been “stolen” from another site. In some cases, the site owner bought usage rights (aka a license) from a stock photography or private collection, which makes using it legal for the licensee but not anyone else, as each person or company needs to purchase a usage license of their own.

But not to worry … if you need a free photo or graphic there are several million free use images out there.

I had a few thoughts of my own on the morality of this topic and here they are:

What an interesting discussion … I do appreciate Ryan’s thoughts on copyright as he raises many issues that have run through my own mind as well, over the years, and does a good job of it.

On the other hand, I completely appreciate Tony’s position as an artist defining the law for the benefit of individuals whom are largely ignorant of what copyright law is, as pertains to images.

An issue touched upon only tangentially, is that Tony and other professional photographers derive their incomes from taking photographs – doing so is their job. And they both want and need to be paid for the work they do, like anyone else does. It can take hours, days, weeks to get a single poignant shot like Tony’s ram … and alongside the time needed just to shoot it, an investment of years goes into building the cumulative knowledge of subjects and mastery of craft and equipment that leads to being able to capture stunning nature, wildlife or action shots. You have to actually own the equipment too and good cameras are not cheap.

Over the purchase life of a photograph, or of her complete body of work, a photographer hopes that her investment of time, equipment and acquisition of skill will result in her being eventually able to claim a living wage for what she does. This is not a given, though, and many professional photographers do not earn enough from their craft to dedicate themselves to it exclusively, without holding down another job that pays the bills while they execute their craft in their “free” time. And that may be true throughout the artist’s entire life.

Professional, by the way, isn’t a term that refers to a level of skill – it merely means that an individual gets paid for performing whatever craft s/he is dedicated to.

As for the obscene amounts of profit that professional artists, athletes, art traders, producers et al are able to make from copyrighting and licensing huge revenue-producing entertainment, sports events and trademarked brand lines … I am completely opposed to this mode of excessive money generation. Where revenue far exceeds what individuals associated with a production need to live comfortable lives, I think it should be capped … with no entities or persons being able to derive a huge profit.

On the other hand, I do respect the right of an artist who produces visuals and statements that others in the world enjoy, to earn a comfortable living through practicing and sharing her art. We benefit from what artists do by enjoying what they create … so shouldn’t we want to help them continue doing what pleases and informs us by supporting them financially?

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