If your photograph gets used unauthorisedly (read: stolen), what should you do?
I’ve often come across different cases where a photographer’s photograph has been stolen, leaving the photographer clueless of what to do next. We all require awareness and thus, I blog post about this.
When I come across these cases and ask them about their possible next steps, their response is often marked with either apprehension or aggression. We require neither.
Myth #1: You need to register your photograph before putting it up on your blog / social media.
Indian Copyright Act, 1957 says: If you have shot the photograph and you either have the film negative / raw file of the photograph, you own the copyright of it unless you are under contract by any company. You do not require to register your photograph before making it public.
Example #1: I go to Murshidabad and photograph the folk singers. If I have the raw images with me (in all probability, yes) then I own the copyright of the photograph. If someone uses the photograph for commercial purpose, then it is a clear case of “Photo-Theft i.e. plagiarism, the infringement of copyright.
Example #2: I am under a contract of an event management group and I am asked to photograph an event. Assuming the contract is signed and agreed upon by me on a piece of paper or via email, the copyright of all the images of the particular event would be with the event management group or the organiser, depending on the terms set between the event management group and the organisers. The copyright is NOT with the photographer.
Example #3: I am under a contract of an organiser and I photograph their event. If the terms are not frozen over email, or mutually agreed upon duly signed and documented, although unethical but I can claim my copyright.
Myth #2: If you get in touch with them, they will not respond.
Most of the plagiarism is not done by the main organiser. Neither do they have the time to invest into all these. Most of it are done by the advertisement makers, who are not aware of the Indian Copyright Act.
As the chief of Kolkata Bloggers, I outsource my design works to third party agents. Now what they do, I can not moderate. If I had the time to invest, I would have done the designs myself. What I can do on my behalf is to mention in the agreement between Kolkata Bloggers and the third party agent – if the agent indulges in copyright infringement of any kind, Kolkata Bloggers should not be held responsible and if required, the agent needs to compensate the copyright owner of the original work. So if tomorrow there is a case lodged against me, I can wash my hands off it. Assumption: All the terms of the agreement are documented and agreed upon by both parties duly signed.
Now imagine this situation – If someone alleges copyright infringement, would that help or hurt the image of Kolkata Bloggers’ brand? Hurt, definitely. If I am made aware of this, would I not take corrective measures to repair the situation? I would, definitely. Most of the time, the organisers do respond if the correct person is contacted.
PS: If government steals your photograph, like in my previous case, they really did not seem to care about their branding. In such cases, we need the next step.
Myth #3: Everything on the internet is for free and not governed by copyright.
Not everything that is up on the internet is for free. When it comes to photography, there is a poor soul who invests times to learn the art of photography, works hard, saves money, buys better equipment and produces better quality photographs. The internet is a place where he exhibits his photographs, attracts more customers and make money. Wikimedia is a social service. Most of the services are not.
There are specific sites from which you could download photographs for free. They are Wikimedia and different other free stock photography sites.
Myth #4: Ignorance is bliss. Let them steal photographs.
A friend said, “If someone steals my photographs, I’d be flattered.” But if all photographs of a particular photographer get used without authorisation, he’d die of starvation.
Moreover, it is a question of good ethics and morality. By 2020, India would be world’s youngest nation, the average age being 28, while in China and USA, it would be over 40. Are we looking forward to an immoral or uneducated youngest nation of more than 120 crores?
Myth #5: One can get away with stealing photographs.
If someone uses my photograph in a remote corner of Africa and I have no friends there who could possibly inform me, then yes, they can get away with it. But in the age of social media, where promotions happen in a big way through social media platforms, it is very likely that the correct person would come across it.
When my photograph was used in Nandan, my friends informed me. When it was used by the West Bengal government, it came out in The Times of India. When Deepanjan Ghosh’s photo was used unauthorisedly, it came out in The Economic Times. These are popular places and popular newspapers.
It is most likely that they’ll be caught.
What to do if a photograph is stolen?
Like I had previously mentioned, get in touch with the concerned person. If you do not know who the concerned person is, Google about the organization and find it out. Even if that does not show, ask people over the social media, whom to get connected to.
Drop the person an email. You should mention that it is your work, where you came across it and that you hold the copyright of the same. Allow them a day to respond. If they do not respond, follow it up with a phone call or drop them a reminder. If you are a blogger and you have adequate reach, then blog post about the same if the concerned person does not respond. Give it one more day.
If they still do not respond, get in touch with a mitigation lawyer. Mitigation lawyers are very peace loving. They try to settle the case outside the court. Ask them to send a legal notice with a copy being sent to you. If they do not respond within 15 days, I do not know what to do. This is the limit to which I had to go in my cases.
The possible steps would be to get in touch with a litigation lawyer and fight the case in the court of law.
There are a few things which you should know:
a. Mitigation lawyers should work on percentages. If you get a compensation of Rs. 100,000.00 and you had previously agreed upon a 30% share with the lawyer, the lawyer would take Rs. 30,000.00.
b. Make sure, during the settlement, you do not sell your photograph. The law says they owe reparations, a quantification of which is the amount of money given to you as “fine”. After the entire process, the copyright and the right to reproduce the image should continue to remain with you.
c. I’m not sure if a ligitation lawyer works on percentages and I am told that the process is lengthy and time consuming. It might take a decade to get solved. I did not have to contact a litigation lawyer, but if I have to, I would love to fight the case in the court.
d. Do not settle for Rs. 2,500.00 or any amount less than Rs 20,000.00. It is a complex issue. You might want to check Getty images to know how much you should take. The law says the amount of the fine varies by usages. If it comes out in a newspaper or public hoarding, the charges should be hefty. If you settle for a meagre amount, they’ll steal someone else’s photo and force them to take a little amount.
e. For tax purposes, they might want to pay you in cheque and cash mix. I am not knowledgeable if that is correct, because the cash transaction goes unaccounted (read: Black money). But I had previously accepted both cash, cheque and a mix of both. I was young then, now I might not agree to it.
Your Photographs, your Rights. Do ask me questions if you have any. This World Photography Day, let’s pledge to not support plagiarism. Please share this to spread awareness.