Photography Copyright Infringement

photographer taking photos
photographer developing copyrighted photos
photos stolen through copyright infringement

Modern smartphones and DSLRs have enabled billions of people worldwide to capture professional-quality photos and post them online. The ease of publishing and the sheer volume of available images means people don’t always think it’s a big deal to use a picture they’ve found online. In fact, pirating someone else’s intellectual property is a very big deal, and it’s called photography copyright infringement.

Some people may not realize they’re infringing your work when they share it on social media or embed it on a website. Other times, unethical people will intentionally steal your work and call it their own. In either case, both can cause harm by damaging your business, your wallet, and your reputation. That’s why it’s so important to officially copyright your work and make sure your rights are enforced.

Understanding photography copyright law

Once you’ve captured a photograph, you are the original author of that work. Whether the work is published or not, you immediately own the copyright.

According to the U.S. Copyright Act at 17 U.S.C 106, when a photo is copyrighted, the photographer “owns” it and has exclusive rights to it. Those ownership right include:

  • The ability to reproduce the photograph.
  • The ability to create derivative works based on the photograph.
  • The ability to publicly distribute copies of the photograph via sale, transfer of ownership, or even by rental, lease, or lending.
  • The ability to publicly display their photograph.

The main exception is if the work was created “for hire.” If the photography was shot as a by-product of freelance contract work or employment, then the resulting work is the property of the hiring party. But if you are the legitimate owner, it’s best to register your IP with the U.S. Copyright Office as soon as possible.

copyright infringement protection with CopyCat Legal
CopyCat Legal protects photographers intellectual property

What if my photographs were stolen before registering my copyright?

That’s ok! You still have options! If your photo wasn’t registered with the U.S. Copyright Office before it was stolen it just means that you can only recover “actual damages” as opposed to “statutory damages.”

Actual damages are most often calculated using a photographer’s normal license fees and/or standard licensing fees. Any profits gained from the infringement may be added to the actual damages as well. However, those numbers can be difficult to quantify, so it’s always best to copyright your work as soon as possible so you can pursue statutory damages instead.

Statutory Damages vs. Actual Damages

If a company uses your photographs to create and sell merchandise for profit, then actual damages are quite simple to calculate. But oftentimes the actual damages are more complicated and harder to determine.

However, if your work was copyrighted before it was stolen, you can pursue the predefined range of financial damages under law 17 U.S. Code § 504(c). These are statutory damages and can be much simpler to pursue.

Amounts for statutory damages can range from $750 to $30,000. The final amount will be determined at court, but if the court deems it necessary, they can increase that number all the way up to $150,000. You can see why it really pays to protect your work BEFORE it gets stolen!

photography copyright infringement damages

Learn more about our practice areas:​

Photography Infringement

Design Infringement

Illustration Infringement

Video Footage Infringement

Film Infringement

Copywriting Infringement

Logo Infringement

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If you’ve had enough thieves stealing your hard work and profits, contact us now.