How Photographers Can Use the DMCA to Protect Themselves

dmca takedown how to use
Photo by chancema

In the new era of social sharing, one of the best ways to find new clients is to ensure that you, as a photographer, have a robust social presence. Which means you’re probably putting your photos — your intellectual property, your livelihood, and things that could potentially make you money — out in the world for people to see. And, possibly, use without your permission. The line between marketing and giving away work is a hard one for a lot of photographers, professional or otherwise, but there are ways that savvy shooters can use social media and know that, for the most part, they’re protected. If you’re a serious photographer, it’s important to know the law, know your rights — and know how to put them to use.

Both a professional photographer and a practicing lawyer, Craig Heidemann says there are several ways that photographers can protect both the value and the integrity of their work.

“The number one thing is that photographers need to take responsibility,” says Craig, advising that, before you share your work, you know what you may or may not be giving away.

“Read the terms of service. Read the terms of use. Terms of service never gives a third party a right to download and use your work; that has to be in writing. So even if you’re sharing your work, no one else can unless you’ve given them permission.”

Once you’ve done that, says Heidemann, it’s all about being aware of who you’re giving your photos to, and taking action if you see someone using them inappropriately. For example, he says, when he first consults with a client, he lets them know that when he gives them the images, they can use them — but someone else (like a wedding venue, or a florist, or even the clients’ friends, cannot.)

“If you’ve done your job, the client knows what the license entails. In the very first email, that should be the very first thing you tell them. Work that conversation into your workflow. It’s that important.”

And if you’re not sure what to tell the client, explicitly? Consult a lawyer. Many of the necessary legal documents a photographer might need are available online, but having someone in your corner who can make sure you’re setting yourself up for success (and security) is pretty essential.

Additionally, says Craig, it’s much easier to fest assured that your work is safe from copyright violation if you own the rights.

“At least four times per year, register your unpublished work with the U.S. copyright office,” says Craig. This can ensure that, should someone use your work without permission, if you are forced to take legal action, you’ll be recouped for the cost of your legal fees. But even if you don’t register your work and you put it on the internet, it’s still protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a piece of legislature which most people know about from the Napster wars of the 2000s, but that is powerful for photographers, too.

The DMCA, says Craig, isn’t a first step — the first step is to go directly to the person or entity using your image and tell them to stop — but it is an extremely useful for photographers, assuming they use it correctly. Serving a DMCA takedown notice to a web provider, like Google, “solves the problem,” by deleting the image. That can not only harm the infringer’s SEO rankings and lead to dead links and blank images on their website, it also reminds everyone involved that appropriate, legal usage matters.

Sharing your work and allowing others to use it with accreditation is a decision that’s up to each photographer to make. And indeed, posting to Instagram or sharing to Creative Commons can help photographers build a body of work, a following, and even a career. But, Craig says, a lot of photographers seem fairly ambivalent about the ways that their photographs are used, often neglecting to take action in favor of recognition. And that makes it harder for everyone else in the field to ensure that they’re being paid a fair wage.

“I think the burden is on photographers to stop cheapening out work,” says Craig, adding that “if more people [used the law], it would be a lot easier for everyone.”


The information contained in this article is provided for informational purpose only and should not be construed as legal advice. We encourage you to seek legal or other professional advice if you have questions on the subject matter contained in this article.

Hanna Brooks Olsen FOLLOW >

Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.