PhotoShelter’s CEO Andrew Fingerman explains why organizations should make managing image rights a priority:
As companies rely on more distributed creative and marketing teams, the risk of a catastrophic PR event increases. Imagine a photographer with an enormous social media reach who is infringed by your company. In the past, there might be a lawsuit that gets a few paragraphs of coverage in your trade’s key publication. But nowadays, a single tweet by the photographer could give rise to a social media backlash that reaches millions of people.
You can reduce the risk of violating copyright agreements at every stage of the image management process.
1. Sourcing images
When you source photos, make sure to have a clear legal agreement with the photographer. If your organization works with a freelance photographer, you need to know what rights the photographer has granted your brand. Where are you allowed to share the photo? Is usage restricted to one project, or are you allowed to use the photo in any project you want? Are you allowed to license the photo? All of these questions should be answered in your usage rights agreement with the photographer.
2. Adding images to your library
When you add photos to your library, make sure they are tagged with metadata indicating the photographer and any usage rights information. At the bare minimum, you should tag the photo with the photographer’s name. Other useful information includes the photographer’s contact information and indicators for when you are allowed to use the photo. Later, let’s say you find the photo and see metadata indicating that you can use the photo in print, but you don’t have permission to use it online. If you have the photographer’s contact information, you can quickly reach out to him or her and negotiate a new contract that gives you permission to use the photo online, as well.
3. Storing images
When you store photos, make sure your library is secure and protects your visual assets. If you use a photo sharing site like Flickr that doesn’t have tight security features, you run the risk of having a photo stolen from your library. Then, when the photo is misused, your organization could be liable.
4. Accessing images
When the time comes to use a photo, make sure to have a system that allows you to easily access the usage rights information. This will help you ensure you are using the image according to your agreement. You might remember the terms of your agreement in the short term, but it’s important to have easy access to that information in the long term. Preserving copyright information along with an image will help you understand your rights no matter how long ago the photo was taken. Plus, it will help you reduce the risk of using an image after your license has expired (which could result in a costly lawsuit and a PR disaster).
5. Sharing images
When you share images, share them only in the ways outlined in your usage agreement. If a photographer has only given you permission to use a photo for a single project, don’t use it for a range of other purposes. Instead, if you want to use the photo for other projects, reach out to the photographer and negotiate a new agreement. Going about it legally will protect your brand from lawsuits, and encourage talented photographers to work with you again. Plus, it can protect your organization’s reputation. As Andrew said above, “a single tweet by the photographer could give rise to a social media backlash that reaches millions of people.” Do the right thing, and avoid a PR nightmare.
To learn more about image copyright (and what not to do), check out 5 Examples of Image Copyright Battles Between Creators and Brands.