Monday, December 8, 2014

When copying prints is stealing

I was recently asked if I could make professional-quality prints of a family member's portrait images. I'm not a printer, which is a specialized area of photography (confession: I send my work out to a terrific and trustworthy pro lab so I know I'm getting the best quality prints for my customers) and thought the request was a little strange. The request was also vague: Was the person asking me to make prints from digital image files, or to make copies of prints?

It turns out it was the latter, and the photos were taken by another professional photographer. The individual was hoping to save on the cost of reprints by asking me to do it. My response: Even if she was willing to pay me my normal printing prices (which would likely be comparable to ordering prints from the photographer who shot the original photos), I would be violating that photographer's copyright.

Two good reasons

If you feel a photo is so good you want to make additional (or larger) prints, that means you liked the photographers work and consider them valuable, and should reward him or her with reprint orders.

The photographer charges too much? Not really, considering the photographer's training, and the investment in the gear necessary to get the results you like so much. Just as table servers at restaurants rely on tips, many photographers rely on print orders to make a living.

Even if you're not moved by the moralizing of the above paragraphs, consider this: If you want to find a work-around that bypasses the photographer's fees, you are breaking the law. If you are caught, the photographer can sue you for the standard ASMP fee charged for unauthorized use of an image for any purpose which is $1,500.  Per image.

This usage law also holds true for unscrupulous print publishers who publish your photos without permission (and you'd be surprised at how many do), and even for web use (although it's not enforced as much as it should be because many solo photographers are either unaware of copyright laws, or don't have the legal resources.)  I read almost daily accounts of this happening and of photographers initiating legal proceedings against people who have used their photos without authorization.

About my watermark

The above paragraph, by the way, is why I am now placing a watermark (which is also my logo—right) in the middle of any photos I post online: I want to avoid unauthorized use and due to a recent situation, I have been forced to take this step. My apologies to those who are bothered by this watermark placement, but I feel this is the most effective way to protect my copyright. If you see my watermark in a published photo anywhere outside of my blog or web site, that means it was used without my permission. Please email me at to report any such instances.

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