The town square in Lynchburg, Tennessee which is home to the Jack Daniels Distillery.

After years of reading posts on various social media sites from young photographers with years (yes, years) of experience, I was almost ready to admit it: I’m a dinosaur, a relic from the past, a slow moving Snorkasaurus (picture Dino from the Flintstones) with one foot stuck in the La Brea Tar Pits and one trying desperately to remain above ground. Apparently my fellow Snorkasauruses and I have clung to ancient concepts and failed to evolve into the fast-paced world of T-Rex’s who dominate by taking whatever it is they want. My era of influence has apparently run its course and I’m destined to be studied by third graders staring hopelessly into the tar pits as teachers drone on about prehistoric life.

In other words, I’m done.

Then it occurred to me; I’m not that old, and neither are my friends and colleagues. I don’t think I really belong in a pit or in a glass case to be stared at by kids. At least, not yet. That revelation led to a new understanding of the world order.

Most of these young photographers are just plain ignorant. Or stupid. Or both. My guess is the latter.

Trust me, I’m well aware that every generation thinks the previous generation didn’t have a damn clue about life. And this next generation of photographers are mostly the same as they routinely lament on the ridiculousness of things such as copyright and licensing. If you follow their reasoning (if one can even call it that), the notion of copyright protection in the Digital Era makes about as much sense as eating lunch at the counter in Montgomery Ward. But they’re ignorant. Or maybe stupid. Or both.

In fact, the Digital Era is exactly why copyright laws and enforcement should be strengthened, not lambasted as some sort of irrelevant relic from a long gone era. The incredible ease in which people can digitally publish a photographer’s work without permission is well known and has led to substantial loss of income for photographers, agencies, collectives and anyone else who earns licensing revenue from their photographs. Case and point was in the past week.

Through various forms of tracking my work, I discovered three websites using my photos apparently without a license. The first was the Herman Cain website (he being a 2012 presidential candidate and conservative radio talk show host), which goes to illustrate that infringement is rampant on tiny blogs and big time “celebrity” sites. As I teach in my workshop, I sent a professional email that detailed the apparent infringement. The email makes it perfectly clear that I have researched their company, their use of my image and I politely inform them of the potential ramifications from violating the US Copyright Law. No threats are made (none are needed), but the email is to the point and asks them to provide a copy of the license or a invoice will be sent. Mr Cain’s site responded within minutes and said they would pay the invoice. The fee for two days online and in social media was just shy of a $1000.

On to the second infringement where I applied the same method and email. The result was the same; the website had procured the image without a license and quickly agreed to pay the fee of $1400.

The third infringement of the week came from a former staffer at the White House who ran a conservative think tank website of sorts. The site had “inaccurately sourced” my photograph and paid my invoice for $1600.

Which leads me back to my revelation that I’m not quite ready to accept the majority opinion by young photographers who feel us dinosaurs are clinging to a ancient concept of intellectual property protection. All images in the examples above were registered with the US Copyright Office and afforded the protections set forth in the law. It’s that law, with special reference to potentially having to pay statutory damages and my attorney fees, that wisely push the T Rex’s into paying the infringement invoices (Note: The invoices are always billed fairly and accurately with consideration given to quotes provided by FotoQuote, the standard licensing software). If anything, the law needs to be strengthened and would take a step in that direction by instituting a Federal Small Claims court so photographers can go after relatively minor infringements without incurring major costs (of course it helps greatly to have lawyers who will take the case on contingency.)

Young photographers everywhere who think copyright is a thing of the past should take notice. In one week I secured $4000 in infringement fees. Admittedly, that doesn’t happen every week, but it certainly goes to prove that real money is at stake, money that can be put back into your photography projects, gear and business overall. So quit acting like us Snorkasauruses don’t have something to teach you. After all, we’ve been around a long time and learned a few survival tricks.

 

Todd Bigelow Photography
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