Posts Tagged ‘copyright law’

It May be Copyright Infringement, But That Doesn’t Mean There Will be a Steep Price to Pay

April 17, 2017

There’s an old joke in which a guy says that he needs a lawyer who only has one arm. When asked why, the guy replies, “because every time I talk with a lawyer he says, ‘on the one hand, on the other hand.’ ”

on-photography-newLay people might describe this as splitting hairs, but law is like that. It can be very fact and context specific, and going to court always caries a degree of uncertainty about how judges and jurors will interpret or see the facts or context in a given case.

Law also does not always have what legal scholars call “bright line” qualities, meaning that there is universal acceptance of what a law means and how it is to be applied.

It is what makes law such a fascinating field of study but such a frustrating endeavor for those seeking justice for a grievance.

In a previous column, I spoke about how if you post photographs on social media you may have your work stolen and used without permission.

Copyright law can be complex, but it is settled that the holder of a copyright has the right to control how his/her work is used in public.

The public performance clause of copyright law is designed to ensure that someone doesn’t profit from stealing the copyrighted work of another person.

So if you post a dramatic photograph of a train, say, plowing through a snow bank, someone can’t copy your image and sell it to Trains magazine while pocketing all of the money and taking all of the credit.

That is the theory behind copyright law. In practice, much of the theft of copyrighted railroad photographs is for non-commercial purposes and the remedies for that are limited.

Is it worth going to court if the thief didn’t make as much as a dime from using your copyrighted image?

Or it may be that the commercial gain that the thief who stole your photograph and used it without permission reaped was very small.

Are you going to go to the time and expense of filing a copyright infringement lawsuit over theft of a photograph that netted the thief $20?

Yes, some people have done that because “it’s not the money, it’s the principle.” Maybe so, but the principle does have a monetary cost.

If a thief steals enough photographs and makes $20 a crack, over time that adds up to “real money.” Teaching someone a lesson might have a long-term economic benefit.

Resorting to litigation is sometime necessary, but it can be clunky, time-consuming and unsatisfactory when the stakes are low. It is why there aren’t more copyright infringement lawsuits than there are.

As the proprietor of a non-commercial website, I have a set of polices about using other people’s copyrighted photographs.

As for the Akron Railroad Club blog, in a few instances I have declined to post an image that someone sent because it wasn’t clear if the sender had permission of the photographer to use that image on the ARRC blog.

A couple of times the sender assured me the photographer said it was OK to post the image and I accepted that at face value, but it was still a risk even if a small one.

With one notable exception I will not copy images without explicit permission from another website to repost on the ARRC blog. That exception is for photographs that I judge to be public relations in purpose.

Norfolk Southern, for example, creates photographs of locomotives that it has painted in a special livery.

NS holds the copyright on those photographs, but its motivation in making the image is not to make money from selling it to publications but to bolster its corporate image.

The railroad reaps public relations value when the news media and others reproduce photographs that it wants certain audiences to know about.

NS wouldn’t be spending thousands of dollars to paint locomotives in special liveries if it didn’t stand to gain something tangible from it in terms of boosting its image and reputation.

The benefit to NS from my posting news about its activities is small and the audience for the ARRC blog pales in comparison to what Trains magazine pulls in on daily basis.

I could use that fact as an excuse to get away with copying images without permission and posting them.

But I’ve drawn a line there. There is more than legal rules at stake here. I have my own reputation and moral character to protect.

If You Post Your Photographs in Social Media, It’s Almost a Sure Bet That Someone Will Steal Them

January 30, 2017

If you post photographs on social media you run the risk that someone will copy and use your work without your permission. Chances are they won’t even give you credit so no one will know that it is your image.

on-photography-newIn theory that is a violation of copyright law, but like speeding on an expressway it is a law that is widely flaunted.

I’m not sure whether to be angry or flattered when someone steals my photos.

At times I’ve been amused. That was the case when someone posted on Trainorders.com a photograph of a flier on the wood bridge carrying Bort Road over the CSX Erie West Subdivision tracks near North East, Pennsylvania.

A group seeking to save the bridge from removal put on that flier an image that I made of a CSX train passing beneath the bridge. That photo had been posted on the Akron Railroad Club blog.

I was less amused when I discovered the organizers of a Michigan railroad conference lifted an image I made last July of Amtrak’s Blue Water at Durand, Michigan.

An educational group should know better than to steal a photograph without permission or giving credit.

On occasion, someone sends me an email asking permission to use one of my photographs.

The Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers did that for an image I made of an Amtrak train in Kalamazoo. My images have been used with permission in professional presentations and in the magazine of a rails-to-trails group.

But All Aboard Ohio stole a photograph I made of the Lake Shore Limited at Bort Road and published it on Page 1 of its newsletter. They did give me credit, though.

Some photographers won’t post on social media because they hate having their photographs used without their permission.

Others post stern copyright warnings, but those may be useless because it is easy to copy and paste online content.

Those who steal copyrighted work are largely unapologetic about it. Supposedly, some people believe that if something is online it is in the “public domain.”

There may be some truth to that, but I see it a different way. There is larceny in the hearts of many, if not most Americans.

Some scrupulously honest people will refrain from theft out of principle or moral obligation, but far more others have the attitude of “I’ll take what I can until someone stops me.”

The cost of stopping people who steal photographs can be high and the rewards low or nonexistent even if you prevail in a lawsuit for copyright infringement. Using the legal system is not free.

Many, if not most, who “steal” the photographs of others are not making money from the theft.

They see what they did as providing an illustration. I can look past those situations, but have a harder time with situations such as the blogger who copied an image I made inside an Amtrak dining car and used it to illustrate a travelogue about his Amtrak trip. The post suggested it was his photograph.

I received an email from someone I don’t know alerting me to that theft and providing a link to the site moderator to seek removal of the image.

I was told this blogger has a reputation of stealing other people’s images. Although I thanked the watchdog, I wound up not doing anything about the theft.

In part that is because I have adopted the philosophy of David Oroszi, a highly-respected railroad photographer from Dayton.

He once wrote that if someone is able to profit from stealing one of his photographs, well then good for them.

He did not elaborate on why he felt that way, but it might be a combination of understanding that the battle might not be worth waging and feeling comfortable with his own success as a photographer.

Dave’s images have appeared in numerous books, including several he has co-authored. Magazines regularly pay him for use of his photographs.

He knows what retailers know that you do what you can to protect your property but some loss from theft is part of the cost of doing business.