Before we begin, I want to make it clear that I am not a lawyer. This article provides general information about some legal matters, but the information is not legal advice and should not be treated as an alternative to advice from a legal professional. However, all that said, you don't have to be a lawyer to take preventative steps to protect your images, and that's what this article is about.
The Importance of Copyright
Copyright can be confusing for all artists, including photographers. Some countries make copyright more confusing than others; the United States is generally more challenging than most. However, there is one basic principle that grounds copyright law in almost all jurisdictions: the person who creates the original piece of art—photographs, in our case—has copyright in the created work. Because you've pressed the shutter release and captured a moment, you hold the copyright to the photograph. That means that you have the right to decide what others can do with your photographs and under what terms.
Despite holding copyright in your photographs, you may still face legal hurdles to recover damages should someone infringe your copyright and use your image illegally. In the United States, it's much easier to make your copyright claim if you register your images with the United States Copyright Office (USCO). To be effective, you must register your images with the USCO within three months after the first date of publishing the image. By registering your images, you are able to pursue legal action to reclaim damages and costs if someone illegally uses your photographs. You can register your images online with the USCO's eCO service. The fee to register an image online is US $35 per image.
Outside the United States, copyright is typically a little more
straightforward and doesn't require registration. Simply capturing the
image and being able to prove that you captured the image (for example,
by being able to produce the original image) normally guarantees you the right to
enforce your copyright.
However, beware that some jurisdictions (including Canada until 2012) assign copyright to the party who commissioned the artwork, not the person who made it. In other words, in some countries it's the client, not the photographer, who automatically owns copyright of the pictures. If this is the case in your area, you'll need to use a licensing agreement to protect your copyright.
ImageRights is a service with two key purposes: discovery of infringing uses of your images, and simplifying the copyright process. In the discovery process, ImageRights scours the web for websites as well as printed publications that may be using your images. As part of the discovery process, ImageRights also helps you recover damages by working with legal partners to negotiate compensation for uses of your photo without a prior agreement.
The purpose of this tutorial is to walk you through using ImageRights for either of these purposes. I'll show you how to submit images to ImageRights for Discovery as well as use the service to simplify copyrighting your images.
One thing that's important to note is that through its network of international legal partners, ImageRights can help photographers in all countries pursue claims, not just the United States. Let's take a look at how to use ImageRights with the Adobe Lightroom plugin.
Install the ImageRights Plugin
ImageRights offers a Lightroom plugin to make using their service much simpler and more integrated in our workflow. After you've created an ImageRights account on the official website, logging in will bring you to the ImageRights dashboard. An ImageRights account is free to get started with, although using the service for copyrighting images is a paid process. The ImageRights dashboard is the hub for the service, where you can review potential infringement of your photos.
It's also where you can download the ImageRights plugin for Adobe Lightroom. To get started, download the plugin and save it somewhere that's easy to find. The plugin comes in a zip file, so extract it from the zip file after downloading and put it somewhere you can access it easily and where it can remain, as it cannot be moved without breaking in Lightroom.
After you've extracted the plugin, go ahead and launch Adobe Lightroom. Access the File > Plug-In Manager menu option to launch the plugin installer.
On the next menu, click the add button in the lower left corner of the window. You'll need to browse to where the plugin is stored. Find the ImageRights.lrplugin file and and choose to add it.
Voila! That's it, you've installed the plugin. Now, let's learn how to use it.
Connect the ImageRights Plugin
After you've installed the ImageRights plugin, you'll need to connect it to your account. In the Library module in the Publishing Services panel, you'll notice that the ImageRights option is now showing. To configuring it, right-click (Control-click on Mac) on it and choose Edit Settings.
On the next screen, you'll connect the plugin to your ImageRights account so that Lightroom can send images directly to the service. Input your ImageRights credentials and choose Verify Connection to ImageRights. If your credentials are correct, you'll receive a message and be connected to the service.
Once we've connected Lightroom to ImageRights, let's send some images to the service to allow ImageRights to begin the discovery process.
Discovery with ImageRights
As I mentioned earlier, one helpful service that ImageRights offers is the Discovery feature. Submitting images to ImageRights for discovery means that the service will search the web for uses of the image. If you determine that the image is being used improperly, you can submit it to the ImageRights team for assessment, which could ultimately lead to financial compensation. You can read more about the Recovery process here, but for now, let's send images to the Discovery service.
To send images to ImageRights for Discovery, make sure that you're working in the Library module. In the Publish Services panel on the left side of the application, find the ImageRights section. To create a new image set to send to the ImageRights discovery service, right-click (or Control-click on Mac) on the ImageRights box and choose Create Image Set.
On the next window, you'll need to give a name to the Image Set. You can just call this something simple like "Send to ImageRights". If you already have images that you want to add to it selected, leave Include selected photos ticked. Otherwise, just drag and drop images from the Library module onto the "Send to ImageRights" set we just created.
Alright, so we're finally ready to send the images to ImageRights. Once we've added the images we want to upload to ImageRights for Discovery, again right click (Control-click on Mac) on the Image Collection we created in the ImageRights list. Go ahead and choose Publish Now. This will start the upload process.
Once the upload is completed, the images are now viewable in your ImageRights dashboard. The service will begin searching the web and printed publications for potentially infringing uses of your images.
If you add more images to your set and want to resubmit, all you need to do is return to the collection and choose Publish at the top of the window.
It's important to note at this stage that our images aren't registered with the U.S. Copyright Office simply because they're sent to ImageRights for Discovery. Another great feature that ImageRights offers is simplifying that copyright process, so let's take a look at how it handles that process.
Register Copyright for Images with ImageRights
So far, we've covered the process of submitting images to ImageRights for the discovery process. Now, let's tackle using the ImageRights plugin to expedite the copyright process.
As mentioned earlier, the fee for copyrighting images through the United States Copyright Office starts at $35 for a single image. ImageRights' fee to register images ranges between $69 and $89 for images, depending on the published status and number of images. For detailed pricing information, check out their page on pricing. Essentially, ImageRights charges a premium for the convenience it offers in the copyright process.
To copyright an image, select an image or a series of images in the Adobe Lightroom Library module. Then, go to the File > Plug-In Extras menu and choose the Prepare USCO Registration for Selected Images option.
After selecting the prepare option, your web browser will open and walk you through completing the copyright process. You'll need to input the relevant info for submission to the USCO to verify the copyright. The interface for ImageRights is far friendlier than the USCO's eCO system, and this is one of the primary advantages.
Once you've completed the process, ImageRights will see the copyright process through to completion. One great feature is that with the ImageRights plugin installed, you can monitor copyright status directly from Lightroom. To do this, you'll need to periodically download copyright status for your images by going back to the same File > Plug-in Extras and choosing Download USCO Status from ImageRights. The plugin will download all of the copyright statuses for your images.
To view that status, you'll need to select an image in the Library module. On the metadata panel, choose ImageRights from the dropdown. This window will show the latest USCO copyright status for your image.
Great job! You've walked through copyrighting your images directly from Lightroom with help from ImageRights.
In this tutorial, we looked at how to use ImageRights, a service that's designed to help you detect infringing uses of your copyrighted images, as well as the importance of copyrighting your images. I hope that your key takeaway is that protecting your images doesn't require retaining an attorney or constantly scouring the web for infringing uses.
To keep learning more about copyrighting your images, one of the best resources that I've come across is the American Society of Media Photographers' "A Copyright Primer." We recently carried a great piece on copyright on Envato Tuts+ by Marie Gardiner: "Understanding Copyright and Licensing for Photography." Another, more general, resource is Thursday Bram's "Essential Guide to Copyright for Beginner Freelancers"
- LicensingUnderstanding Copyright and Licensing for PhotographyMarie Gardiner
- FreelanceEssential Guide to Copyright for Beginner FreelancersThursday Bram
If you're interested in learning more about how the ImageRights service works, make sure to check out their Recovery page for details on how they pursue image claims. They also offer several tiers of their service.
What are you doing to protect the rights of your images? Are you copyrighting? Make sure and leave a comment to let us know.