On January 25th, we held our first Zoom-In Panel Discussion at Zico House entitled “Copyright (or Wrong?)“. This is part of an on-going series that BSP will be organizing throughout the year to cover different topics of relevance to the photography community in Lebanon and share valuable insight from experts in the field.
Our launching panel was a very interesting and dynamic one as we tackled the somewhat sensitive topic that concerns all of us: copyrights and, more in specific, how we can go about preserving our rights as photographers. The panel, moderated by fellow BSP member Arek Dakessian, included the following esteemed team of speakers:
- Dr. Pierre El Khoury – Professor of Law and Independant Legal Consultant
- David Munir Nabti – CEO, Chief Entrepreneur & Organizer at AltCity
- Nehme Abouzeid – Publisher at TimeOut Beirut & On Time Publishing (in the place of Naomi Sargeant)
- Mohamad (Mido) Seifeddine – Photographer and Instructor
- Toni Yammine – Photographer, Musician and Instructor
- Naema Zarif – Integrated Media Consultant
(Click here to find out more about each speaker)
For all those who missed the discussion but still wanted to find out what we covered, below are a few key points made by the different speakers (a special thanks to Rana K. for the video footage which helped us compile these notes as accurately as possible).
COPYRIGHTS, IN GENERAL:
I’m with watermarking photographs and copyright. The copyright law in Lebanon is a good law, especially if you’re a professional photographers who sells his/her work and gives the client the rights to use those photographs. As such, you don’t want more people to share your work, especially the more well-known work that has been exhibited internationally or published in books.. I don’t like the idea of finding my photograph used by another photographer as if it’s his/her own photo.
Most people think that Creative Commons contradicts with copyright whereas it simply builds a layer above it. Licensing my work under Creative Commons allows it to enter the public domain. Everyone is liable to share my work publicly under Creative Commons so long as they mention my name. This helps in the widespread of the content or information that you want to share with others.
All my work is copyrighted but that doesn’t mean it can’t be put under the Creative Commons license so that other people can use my pictures. I love when a blogger shares one of my pictures, and, as it is under Creative Commons, it links back to my flickr so the viewer gets to see more of my work, etc. To clarify, not just anyone can take my photographs and sell them. I could have put my license to permit commercial use, but I don’t like that. The Lebanese copyright protects my photographs naturally so if someone steals and prints my photograph illegally, I can sew them and take the right action. I like to see my work shared and used elsewhere, so it’s working perfectly through the combination of copyright and that layer above it that is Creative Commons.
TimeOut has its own system of sharing, so within our license of TimeOut we can use any article, photo or cover that’s created by any TimeOut around the world. Any contract we have when we outsource our work has to be owned by us. Very rarely do we accept a photograph that is copyrighted or that we don’t have the full rights to. We’re very clear on that.
One of the critical issues to do with copyrights is based on your objectives. I’m both a fan of copyright and a fan of Creative Commons but I’d prefer that we call it “appropriate licensing”. Whether you are an amateur photographer or a very experienced one, it depends on your objectives at the time and you have to define the best way to go forth with this matter. For us [at AltCity], both with our work with social entrepreneurship and citizen journalism, we help people figure out what they’re trying to do and find something that’s most appropriate for them.
Photographers are protected under Lebanese copyright law, which of course, protects all original works. You are protected from the moment you take a photograph.. there’s no need to register your photograph as it’s done automatically. Some people may chose to register their work to prove the date it was taken on and/or its originality.. When you publish your work under Creative Commons, it doesn’t mean we give up our rights – you are just giving a license and preserve “some” rights.. Creative Commons is a license system so the person keeps their copyright but they license their work so others can use it but under certain conditions. We cannot infringe this copyright but you are giving more rights than the standard copyright system.
THE WATERMARKING AND COPYING DEBATE:
During the presentation section by our speakers, Toni focussed on watermarks by giving a fun example of the extent some photographers will go to protect (and over-protect) their work followed by his take on “why watermarking sucks”:
- Watermarks ruin photographs.
- Watermarks will discourage any blog or website from sharing your images.
- Watermarks can be removed!
- If watermarks on your photos exist to “protect” them from being stolen or copied then the Internet is the wrong place for your images.
- Top photographers don’t watermark their photos.
- Let your style be your watermark!
Mohamad (Mido), on the other hand, strongly believes in using watermarks after several incidences of people using his work illegally as their own, adding that “I’m using the internet to share my work, not for people to steal it.. [and that] when you watermark your photograph, it’s a reminder for the person who’s taking this photograph to not use it as their own.” Mohamad’s approach to using watermarks is artistic as well as he believes that “If you regard photography as art, then just as paintings are signed then how come a photograph can’t have a signature?”
From the legal side of how much watermarking can actually protect your work, Dr. Pierre clarified that most importantly you have to prove that you are the owner of any stolen pictures and watermarking doesn’t fully protect them. “There are many other ways to do this. For example, you can put some hidden pixels that don’t exist in reality so if someone copies your photograph, then you can prove that you are the owner. Watermarking is only digital so if it is published you can’t prove it’s yours. Something visual, such as a visual marker, is one way to protect.” Dr. Pierre elaborated.
David turned the conversation in another direction, asking the audience to reassess the cultural reasons behind copying and the overall benefits of sharing. “The cultural issue, and awareness, is very important.. People are taught in schools [in our part of the world] that the more accurately you copy the words of your teachers or repeat them in exams, the better you’ll do. From that comes an explanation as to why people copy from others..” shared David, adding that “People, as creative producers, need to think about what they want their work to do. I really liked what Toni said, “Let your work be your watermark” but this only really works if people actually know your work, so how can you get more people to know your work?.. If you hold on so tightly to your work then it becomes so much harder for other people to share it and get that added boost for more work or opportunities.. You really have to think about it strategically.”
At TimeOut Beirut, watermarking serves a different purpose as highlighted by Nehme “The objective of the watermark for us is to allow others to share our photographs (from the events we cover, for example) but of course so long as they keep the logo there.. The watermark in our case is not to protect the photographs more than it is to publicize but if people clearly remove the watermark and illegally use the photographs, it does become an infringement where we may take action if needed.”
As a conclusion on this matter, Naema brought to light the reality that “You can’t stop people from stealing. You just have to be keen on how you are sharing your work. If you want to completely protect your work and prevent any use at all, you might as well keep it to yourself..”
RIGHTS ON THE STREET:
A major concern for us as street photographers is the rights of those we photograph and if they can take legal action against us. Dr. Pierre explained clearly (and we should all know this) that “the rights of the person photographed is different from the copyright of the photographer.. It’s a personal right and I have the every choice to forbid someone from photographing me on the street.. The person photographed also has the right to take action if their photograph is published without permission.. ” That’s where a model release is truly the best safeguard, especially if you know you’re going to eventually publish the photographs somewhere.
AGREEMENTS AND CONTRACTS:
If you’re a professional or commercial photographer, always have a contract or written agreement signed by both parties. “We need to get used to licensing our work” Dr. Pierre advised and it needs to be written, even if there is no payment for the photographs. Clearly state how the photographs are allowed to be used and for what period. David added that “having contracts is very smart, even if it’s uncomfortable.. make it casual if it helps but essentially list what each party will be doing or getting.” By email, this is only viable so long as the person agrees with a reply clearly stating as such otherwise you’re just saying your terms and it can’t protect you.
Our closing word of advice to all the BSP community after this interesting discussion is to always play it safe when commissioning your work to others and know your full rights so you can protect them. Also, keep in mind your intentions when sharing your work online and if you chose to watermark your photographs, understand that it won’t fully protect you. Watermarking is a personal choice at the end of the day but we highly recommend you keep them modest (1 is more than enough) and discreet (in the corner and not all across the photo) so they don’t overpower the image itself.
We’d like to thank all the panel speakers for taking part in this discussion and sharing their valuable insight on this topic. Keep posted for more exciting discussions by BSP in the near future!
If you have any follow-up questions, feel free to ask in the comment section below.