Professional aerial photographers/drone photographers spend countless hours perfecting their craft to capture the perfect shot. Whether it’s a panoramic vista or an oceanside condominium, aerial photographers are highly-skilled and create art that gives the rest of us a new perspective that we don’t typically see from ground level. But being up in the clouds doesn’t prevent businesses from committing copyright infringement – using your photo without permission (and without paying you) on their website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
Can an aerial photographer do anything to fight back against copyright infringement? Thankfully, the answer is yes. For example, you could modify your drone to shoot laser beams, track down the infringer, and exact vengeance with EXTREME PREJUDICE. Or… for those less inclined to commit murder, I suppose you could read on for a few useful tips (but let’s not completely ignore the laser beam option).
Using Someone's Photos Without Permission is Copyright Infringement
Let’s start by putting a name to the problem. Whether you want to call it “stealing” or “without permission,” copyright infringement is essentially the act of displaying or publishing photographs, artwork, music, etc. without permission or license from the creator/author. In context, you’re an aerial photographer. The moment you release the shutter on your drone’s camera, you’ve created a photograph for which you are the copyright holder. When you put that photograph on your website or social media for the world to see, you’re unfortunately creating an opportunity for infringers to save or screenshot the photo for their own use. Sure… they could do the right thing by paying you or asking whether they can use the photograph… but it’s a lot cheaper and faster to just steal your photograph. And thus we have copyright infringement.
Aerial Photographers Should Register Their Photographs with the Copyright Office
Wait a minute… didn’t you just tell me that I own the copyright on every photograph I take? You do, but “owning” the copyright and “registering” your photographs with the US Copyright Office are different matters. Registering your photographs with the Copyright Office has tremendous benefits in the war against copyright infringement – you can sue infringers, obtain court-ordered injunctions stopping them from using your photos, and you might be able to recover statutory damages ranging from $750.00 – $150,000.00, depending on the circumstances.
It would be nice if people would just play nice and not steal your photographs, but the reality is that aerial photographers have always faced infringement of their work and likely always will. Having the weight of the US government behind you (i.e., registering your photos with the Copyright Office) is an important tool in your arsenal (besides the laser beams) to fight back against infringers.
Registering Photos is Expensive and Burdensome, Right?
Wrong. It is very simple and inexpensive to register your photos with the Copyright Office. As of now, you can register up to 750 photographs at the same time for the whopping price of $55.00. The US Copyright Office itself provides step-by-step instructions for using its online system. Basically, you need to compile your photos in a folder, give each a name/description, and list them out in a spreadsheet that you will submit to the Copyright Office. We here at CopyCat Legal have assisted many of our clients with acclimating to the process, but once you’ve done it a couple times, it essentially becomes second nature.
How Can Aerial Photographers Prevent Copyright Infringement Altogether?
There’s only one completely effective method to prevent copyright infringement altogether… never license any of your photos and never put any of them online. Basically, you’d need to find a new profession. You can make it more difficult for someone to steal your drone or aerial photographs, but you can’t make it impossible.
For example, you could add watermarks to all your photos. But watermarks are fairly easy to remove/crop and many photographers don’t like using them as they distract from the photo itself. Some websites (like Photobucket) provide an option to disable the ability to ‘right-click’ an image and save it… that will stop some people, but others will just take a screenshot from their computer or phone. Unfortunately, an infringer committed to obtaining your photo for free is a difficult force to stop or even slow down. There is no magic solution to prevent infringement, so aerial photographers may need to focus instead on fighting copyright infringers when found.
How Can Aerial Photographers Find Out if Their Photos are Being Stolen?
We represent a lot of aerial and drone photographers here at CopyCat Legal. Sometimes they find out about a copyright infringer through dumb luck… one of their paying clients will notify them that the photo they paid for is on some other realtor or business’ website. But more often than not, our clients find the infringements themselves. Some clients sign up with companies (such as ImageRights, Pixsy, etc.) that use automated algorithms to scour the internet to find “matches” of your photographs and then attempt to obtain a license payment for any unauthorized uses. Others prefer to do reverse-image searches themselves, using tools such as Google or TinEye to upload their photographs and see whether any websites are using such without permission. None of these search platforms are perfect at finding each and every potential infringement out there, but they are invaluable in the never-ending war against copyright infringement.
Aerial Photographers Can Hire an Experienced Law Firm to Pursue Copyright Infringements
The good news is that aerial and drone photographers are not alone in the war against copyright infringers. Whether you need help registering your photos with the Copyright Office, learning how to utilize reverse-image searching to track down infringers, or pursuing claims against infringers, your best bet is to hire an experienced and reputable law firm to work hand-in-hand with you.
Thankfully, we happen to know some cool cats that fit the bill. Our team is knowledgeable, fierce, and passionate about helping aerial and drone photographers protect their valuable work and pursue infringements thereof. CopyCat Legal works with its many clients mainly on a contingency basis… meaning we only get paid when our clients get paid by infringers. You don’t owe us anything if we can’t collect, so there’s no risk to picking up the phone to see whether we can help you protect your aerial and drone photography from infringers. By the time we get through with most infringers, they most certainly wish they had paid you a fair price in the first place. It’s a painful lesson, but it’s one we’re happy to teach.