Wednesday, October 10, 2007
I think I told you I'm into organizing family photos these days. I really want to do my family heritage in a scrapbook. So, I've been scanning old slides and photos into the computer and swapping pictures with other family members.
Today I downloaded some pictures to a photo store and went to pick them up after about an hour. I get there, and the lady says she can't give me some of my pictures because they appear to be professional portraits. I would need to show a copyright release. Okay, I can perfectly understand protecting photographer's rights. I have heard of people paying for a sitting but only getting the proof portraits that they then go reproduce cheaper than the photographer's $100+ package. But these pictures I have are over 40 years old. Our family has only one copy of most of them, and though I could tell you where and when they were taken, I have no idea who the photographer was, if they are still in business, or even if they are still alive to care if I make 2 copies. It's not like I'm selling them to my relatives for even a penny each.
Photography is an interesting thing. It seems whoever clicked the camera is the owner of that shot, even if there are 9 other people who stood in the same spot and got the same exact scene on film. How can you tell the pictures apart when you lay them out together? Who really knows, but you can protect what is yours if you want to. It seems, though, to only be a rather recently that the average person (not a famous professional) can register copyright on photos -- though I really don't know much about it. (Makes it hard to find pictures for this blog!)
I do know that the words you put together as an author are a part of who you are and uniquely yours. Once you put them out for public viewing it would be an infringement on your rights if anyone took those words and claimed them as their own.
Now if 10 authors stood on the same spot at the same time and wrote down what they observed at a county fair, you would have 10 descriptions that are very decent to each individual. I would find the copyright of this instance easy to measure.
If you want to quote someone else's words, you must first check the copyright laws to see how much you can use before you need to contact the individual for written or even paid permission. For example, you cannot quote a Helen Steiner Rice poem, or even a line or two, without permission from her foundation. You should be okay to quote just a line from something like a movie without special permission if you give credit where due. The difference is in the percentage of the work you want to quote in relation the size of work you are quoting it in. That's where things can get sticky, and why I'm glad that fiction rarely has to worry about quotes like non-fiction publishing does.
If you have a quote and don't know the author, you can specifically say that these are not your words and that you do not know who they belong to -- "author unknown." But it is best when in doubt to leave it out.
Yes, I know I've rambled out of my frustrations. It is nice, though, to see how everyone is an artist with the right to protect our creations even if it is just a family snapshot or a journal entry. Don't be afraid to create. And don't be afraid to share your creations. The law is behind you.
Editor Du Jour Becky