Digital Photography Presents Copyright Dilemma

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Digital Photography Presents Copyright Dilemma

One of the great advantages of digital photography is also one of its great disadvantages. It's just so darn easy to copy and use other people's photos.

Once upon a time, if a magazine wanted to use a photo, they'd turn to the photographer or a stock photo agency. The requested slide would arrive with a copyright notice stamped right on it. Getting a duplicate made wasn't that easy. Any honest photo lab would refuse to dupe a slide unless written permission was provided with the request.

It's not the same these days - as photographer Sherry Martin found out.

Martin is suing Disney and ESPN over one of her photos used in "Competitor" magazine, allegedly without her consent. According to Kennedy Law, use of Martin's photo was sold to "Competitor" by a third party - in spite of the fact that Martin and "Competitor" had been unable to come to an agreement over the use of the photo. Once you have a high-res copy of an image, what's to stop you from taking advantage? (Well, other than getting caught.)

But the waters get even murkier.

This spring, Jeff and Danielle Smith, who live outside Saint Louis, heard from a friend vacationing in Europe. The friend had come across the Smith's family Christmas photo... as an advertisement in a store window in Prague!

Apparently, Mrs. Smith had posted the picture online - in high resolution - to share with friends and family. And an enterprising designer had "borrowed" it to create a display for the store. (Reportedly, the store's owner removed the advertisement when informed that the picture's use was illegal.)

Unfortunately, it seems that a certain element has - as they always have - decided that "what they don't know won't hurt them." And using copyrighted photos without permission is too tempting to pass up - now that digital photography has made it so easy.



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Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.