A Statement on Copyright

Throughout this website and others by Gary Michael Smith copyright notifications are visibly placed. But what exactly is the purpose, rationale, and consequences involved?

First, the purpose. From the moment a creative work is produced it is covered by something called “natural copyright,” i.e., the creator is granted full rights to the material because s/he created it. However, most professionals don’t rely on natural copyright and prefer to formally copyright creative works, or “intellectual property (IP)” as it’s officially called by the Library of Congress Copyright Office. Gary Michael Smith is one such professional who prefers the formal method. Note: Intellectual Property is defined by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) as “. . . creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce.”

What is the rationale for a copyright? This is an easy question—just look at your own work. Do you approach your job with the intention of giving away your services, product, or knowledge of the business? The problem is that many professionals and nonprofessionals don’t understand that many jobs require skill and knowledge. As such, photography requires both a technical skill in using expensive and sometimes complicated equipment, as well as knowledge and training to understand such specifics as lighting, color, contrast, and composition—all of which have to be controlled and monitored throughout the creative process.

Finally, consequences can be severe for those who don’t abide by the law. And infringing on copyright is no exception. If you didn’t create the work or don’t otherwise own the rights, you can’t use it for your own purposes. In this case, “imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery” but rather a crime. Regarding the selling of rights, owners of copyrights often are willing to work with those who would like to use intellectual properties. You just need to ask, understanding that rights for photography are based on use. For instance, the price for selling one-time rights (as with written material) will not cost the same for multi-use such as for print and web. And if the work will be used continually for a period of time, the price goes up further. Just note that most displays of copyright protection also have within easy view contact information for use requests.

Bartering for photography? Sure, in some cases this might be accepted. But in many cases, unless you’re a food purveyor, healthcare provider, or home mortgage company most photographers are going to require payment in currency.

The Library of Congress Copyright Office explains that “One of the rights accorded to the owner of copyright is the right to reproduce or to authorize others to reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords.” So, if you don’t own the copyright or haven’t been granted the right to use material, request permission or buy the rights.