Authors, songwriters, photographers and other creatives own the copyright to their work. According to the Houston Chronicle, just this month (September 2020), Aaron M. Sprecher, a freelance photographer, sued Deshaun Watson, a quarterback for the Houston Texans.
Deshaun Watson allegedly used three of Sprecher’s photos on his Instagram account without licensing the photos.
Yes, even if the photo is of you, the copyright belongs to the photographer. If you take a photo on your smart phone, you own the copyright. If your wedding photographer takes a photo of you at the altar, he or she owns the copyright. To use the photo, a photographer’s release or a license to use the image is required. Sprecher is suing for a permanent injunction and damages.
Why Photographic Copyright Matters to Authors
Say you are designing your book cover and find the perfect image on the internet. If you use this image even as inspiration, you could be violating the Copyright Act of 1976 and a host of other laws. The work belongs to someone else. Using it without permission is unlawful.
Or, say you are hiring a contractor to design your cover. Get a statement in writing by the graphic artist that assures the work in no way violates the law. Graphic artists should hold you harmless (in writing) from any negatives repercussions of their work.
Other Examples of Copyright Violations
A mammoth lawsuit is percolating over Microsoft’s use of photographer Matilde Gattoni’s images. Her complaint involves millions in damages.
In 2016, Photographer Carol Highsmith sued Getty Images for $1 billion (yes, that’s billion with a b) for copyright violations.
In 2013, Getty was sued by photographer Daniel Morel. A federal jury awarded the photographer $1.2 million dollars.
And Now For Something Lighthearted
Intellectual property is a serious matter, yet the banter between lawyers for Bill Murray’s company, William Murray Golf, and the Doobie Brothers is a fun read.
The back-and-forth has to do with Bill Murray’s use of the song “Listen to the Music” in his advertisements. Seldom do we see a lighthearted approach to an infringement complaint, so I had to share it.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss concerns about copyright and intellectual property. I’m no lawyer, but can refer you to literary attorneys who specialize in the issues we face as creatives.