Open Letter To Lightroom - We Need Your Help

Open Letter To Lightroom - We Need Your Help

There is a major problem in the photography industry, and it's the photographers fault. Photographers spend countless hours in the right side of their brain taking photos, then more sleepless nights bringing those images to life in post. They agonize over the processing, feedback from peers, and then publish the images for the world to consume. Sadly 97% of these photographers aren't copyrighting these images making them much more attractive to steal.  We need your help to fix this, Adobe.

Dearest Adobe,

I love and use a bunch of your products, especially Lightroom. This is why I am going to give you yet another indisputable and free recommendation for a new feature in Lightroom. As I mentioned above, photographers are creative right brained people that need people like you to maximize their left brained work flow with software tools that keep us organized in a logical manner. We need you to help bridge that gap, and it's a large gap, between the Lightroom catalogue and the United States Copyright Office. Photographers don't want to be hassled with the task of dealing with tedious paperwork like registering all of our images yet we want the protection and payout when a business steals our photos and uses them for commercial purposes. In actuality we want to be out shooting natural light portraits shot wide open with milky soft background city bokeh. We want to be planning our next portrait session, or planning our next big commercial campaign, not tedious registration work with the government. We want very little to do with the work that comes after a photo is flattened and delivered. As a matter of fact I am willing to pay a little extra for the convenience of someone else doing it for me while providing occasional legal guidance on infringement issues.

I know what you must be thinking, Adobe, and the answer is no. I don't expect you to get into the business of registering our photos for us nor do I expect the government to get with the times and come out with a super streamlined process for registration through Lightroom itself; although that would be best case scenario. I am a realist and I am going to make this easy on you. I am asking you to make a plugin, feature, or magic button that will FTP a catalogue of my images to a 3rd party service that is in the copyright business of registering my photos while providing me with legal guidance on issues I may have. If you could please make a smart catalogue feature with an upload button that sends the photos and necessary information to a company that handles this process on a quarterly basis, it would be a win win situation for everyone but the people stealing images. I think this is a modest request that could also help the government get a little extra money on the digital photo explosion of the last 10 years. If anyone from the government is listening, you knuckleheads are missing out on the revenue of 350-400 billion photos taken each year, 97% of which are from photographers that don't use your service or care about copyrighting their images.

This is where I am going to blow your mind, Adobe. I did the legwork already and found a company that does this exact thing plus a few more beneficial services that I've been looking for. So I got on the phone, called up the CEO of Joe Naylor and talked to him of my idea to bridge the gap. Oddly enough he already had that same idea and is working hard to make this a reality but he needs your help to make this a mainstream service.

Don't let us down, Adobe. Image Rights is waiting for your phone call and we are all waiting for this to become super easy and streamlined. Apple, if you are also listening and haven't completely abandoned Aperture, please add this feature for the 7 people that still use this program.

Much Love,

Gary Winchester Martin

About Image Rights

Image Rights will not only assist you in the quarterly and timely registration of all of your image copyrights, but they also have a variety of tools that can discover your images online and recover damages from violations. The company has teams of copyright lawyers all over the world available to represent you at a moments notice. Plus you have 3 options for services from 0$/year to $995/year.

From here on out every image taken by me, and our studio will be registered through Image Rights and we will have the support and guidance of a worldwide team of lawyers. I suggest you do the same so the next time a publication, commercial business, or online retail store steals your image you will have the full support of the law on your side with a team of people working in your corner.

Here is some more information Joe gave me from our discussion.

1. The issue at hand:

  • Per a 2010 ASMP survey, less than 3% of professional American photographers register their images with the USCO.  I liken it to a sales guy who hates spending time updating his sales database with notes about the day’s sales calls as they would much rather be out there selling more product.  A photographer doesn’t want to spend time registering their photos, they want to be shooting more photos.  And it doesn’t take a genius to deduce that the percentage of global professional photographers is substantially less than that, even though they too would receive all of the benefits that timely registration with the USCO bestows when faced with copyright infringement inside the US.

2. Benefits of timely registration:

  • Not timely registered and you can pursue actual damages and profits derived from the infringing use.  When dealing with online infringement, actual damages often boils down to what a license would have cost for that use had it been licensed properly, and the profits derived are notoriously difficult to ascertain, typically due to poor data and/or obstruction by the infringer.
  • If timely registered however, then you have the option to pursue statutory damages and attorney’s fees.  This changes the whole dynamic.  This makes a claim much more attractive to a copyright attorney to take on your claim.  The exposure to an unpredictable jury’s opinion on what damages should be awarded (and they could award up to $150,000 per infringement if they believe the infringing use to have been willful) and the prospect of having to pay plaintiff’s attorney’s fees, which could easily run into the six figures if litigated through to trial, serves to economically support the rights holder’s efforts to enforce their rights against an infringing party.  So the exposure to those potential costs is what compels an infringing party to enter into good faith negotiations to resolve the claim.

3. Then why doesn’t every professional photographer register their images.  The reasons why they don’t are not complex:

  • They’re not sure how to answer the questions.  For example, 20 years into the internet age, there are still massive vagaries around what constitutes publication.  So quite often, they’re just not sure if their images are considered published or not, and if so, what action triggered it.
  • For those who have been shooting for years or decades, the information gathering can be prohibitively cumbersome.  For example to register a group of published photos, they have to be grouped by the calendar year in which they were published.  And you have to provide the file name and the exact or approximate date on which each individual image was initially published.  If they didn’t keep good records, then this becomes a virtually impossible requirement to meet.
  • Then one of the most common questions we receive is how many images can I register in one filing.  You have to dig surprisingly hard to get that answer.  And the answers vary based on whether they are unpublished or published and whether you file online through the eCO site or through the mail using the paper forms (which I highly recommend not doing if it can be avoided at all).
  • Lastly, the cost often serves as a barrier.  While it’s might be one of the most important investments a photographer can make, they may not see how they are going to get the payback on it.  And unfortunately, it’s typically too late before you see how it could have helped you when confronting an infringer.  In one sense, it’s like insurance.  You make the payment to protect yourself from a future event that may or may not happen.  If it doesn’t happen, then great.  But when it does, it sure does pay to have protected yourself in advance.

4.  It’s a workflow issue

  • Many of the challenges that discourage or block photographers from registering go away if they just integrate the process of registering into their workflow.  Very easy to write, but changing user behavior can be very difficult – and has been the death of many great products.  So the answer is to find a way such that registration almost happens on its own.
  • This too does not have to be complicated.  In the same way that Lightroom allows you to automatically do things to your images once you’re done editing them (catalogue them, upload to facebook or Flickr, etc. you could easily have them automatically dumped to a folder (for lack of a better descriptor) that contains all of your images to be registered next.  At ImageRights we always recommend registering images before you publish them, it’s simply easier and can be more cost effective.  If you’re work is such that you publish your images immediately, then dump them in a folder and set a timer to register them every two or three months.  You have three calendar months from the initial publication date to register with the USCO and to ensure timely registration.  We often recommend doing it every two months just in case something comes up and you slip a week or two.
  • However, at ImageRights we’re working towards providing solutions that will automatically sweep your queued images.  In an ideal world, we automatically complete the eCO registration and present the final draft application for review.  We will be able to do this is certain data is contained in the meta data for each photo (author’s name, creation date, publication date if any, etc.).  Our current plan is to develop a plug-in for Lightroom; but a tighter integrated partnership with Adobe would serve Adobe’s photography customers well.

How many of you actually register your copyrights with your government versus simply adding a © symbol in your metadata? Comment below.

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Michael Woloszynowicz's picture

Good stuff Gary! This would be amazing to see.

Aaron Brown's picture


InTheMist's picture

I embed a copyright with a statement granting a license for a single use, for a specific fee. When they steal, I send a bill.

Your ideas are excellent, though!

Gary Winchester Martin's picture

That doesn't really matter as much as you would think, I've found. We had an image stolen and used by a MAJOR online retailer, and they claimed it was fair use under the DMCA cause they hotlinked it. I put the © symbol on everything but unless it's registered you have a much smaller chance of recouping actual damages in the amount that would make it worth your time to pursue, or have pursue. From what I'm told, the amounts recouped on images that are copyrighted and registered and not registered are VERY different.......... We don't normally hear about these amounts, though becuase the companies that settle on a large dollar with the photographer restrict this information from becoming public as part of the settlement.

lucidlyseen's picture

I shoot a lot of commercial images (fashion clothing) and these get taken off the ecommerce site they are meant for and stolen by companies in China who use the exact image to sell the "same" garment for much less. Would imagerights be beneficial in a case like that, because we have been told they will not budge on taking those images down unless they are copyrighted within China... (I'll probably contact them myself, but thought it an important addition to the disscusion)

Gary Winchester Martin's picture

I am not sure on every country they are in, but from my conversation it sounded like they have connections almost everywhere. And yes, they will register these images for you in foreign countries

cchdisqus's picture

From what I've understood, China (or PRC) should honor Intellectual property rights/copyrights you have here in the US, they uphold the Berne Convention. However, there is a lack of education about IPR there, and sometimes local government in the area just doesn't enforce it that much. But you could legally go after them if you wanted. It's just difficult with situations like that because there are so many of those types of companies pulling copyrighted works off the web.

jason kessenich's picture

Thanks for writing this!!

Mike Troutt's picture

Could this not be made into an export option just like the export to flickr or Facebook option already built in. Automatically cataloging which images we upload to either so as to make sure we register anything we have shared with the social media world?

Steven Erat's picture

As discussed in my other comments here, Lightroom already has the capability built-in to work with a service such as a copyright registration service. The problem is that no such service exists as far as I know. If the US Copyright Office or a 3rd party like ImageRights developed an API to register images in batches, then it would be relatively easy to integrate that service into Lightroom just like any other plugin. Again, the problems is, as far as I can tell, there is no service for Lightroom (or any software client) to consume.

Mike Last's picture

Why not petition the US Government and your elected officials to make copyright automatic for the image creator instead?

Danny Solis's picture

When have any of the US Governments automated systems work out for the public. Need I remind you of Obamacare Website Ordeal?

Mike Last's picture

I didn't say automated systems, I said automatic. You shouldn't have to pay a fee to the government to register your copyright in the first place, they copyright should be yours as soon as you shoot it. There shouldn't be a difference in damages whether you registered your copyright or not.

Gary Winchester Martin's picture

Mike in a perfect world you are correct. The person that owns the RAW file and/or can prove they created it should automatically be the owner. Unfortunately this probably isn't going to happen anytime soon.

Furthermore the DMCA act of 1998 that Bill Clinton signed into circulation is the real issue. This was way before the internet as we know it today and companies are exploiting this. Amending this bill would be a great first step to seeing some change.

Rob Mynard's picture

Australia works this way (copyright is automatic and no need to register with a 2nd party), the big problem is that any change to the DMCA act in the US would have to get past the big media lobbyists first and a lot of people have a finger in that pie. :-)

Axel's picture

It's in Germany that way...never really know that it is such a hassle for you guys!

James Darden's picture

But had they been smart, they would have hired the people they used to fix the crippled site from the outset. Time magazine wrote an extensive article on the Silicon Valley team that came in and fixed the poor hobbled web site. I didn't get why they just didn't go there in the first place. A handful of Google and Facebook programmers could have knocked that thing out in weeks. That just confirms the antiquated way of thinking the government has. A bunch of old heads who don't have a clue.

But I digress. Do our elected officials have any vested interest in us getting our work copyrighted easier? I'll go out on a limb and say unlikely. And I'm sure most people aren't going to withhold a vote on the basis that a politician isn't investing the time to get foreign countries to stop stealing images and make copyright automatic. Most of them probably don't even know the laws and would need a staff member to do the investigative work.

Steven Erat's picture

An image creator has copyright immediately and registration with the US Copyright Office is not required. That said, should you need to litigate for damages due to copyright infringement then you may not find legal assistance willing to accept your case without copyright registration, or even if copyright was registered but only after the infringement occurred. Registration is a means to validate the copyright (before publication), not grant the copyright.

Mark Spomer's picture

Gary, VERY WELL DONE, AND very timely. This is definitely a service I would use without hesitation... Just this week alone I found (and sent infringement letters and invoices) to 7 different entities who have willfully used 3 of my images. I included screenshots of both where they are using them, and evidence they are indeed MY images. I attached invoices with license rights and infringement fees (supported by pricing in PhotoShelter) that totaled over $11,000! Of course I included that "Ignorance of the copyright law, nor blaming another party of its inclusion and use without their knowledge, does not provide protection from legal action". What was surprising (maybe not so some) was that these companies included a large state university, the worlds largest golf magazine, a local newspaper, a land development company (image used in package to raise millions in funding) and one of the top commercial contractors in the world who states on their website that "the owner does business on a handshake and his word is his bond"... Two of these companies have already responded within 24 hours (naturally apologizing for a "marketing person" who was responsible, along with wanting discounts, which I did/will not provide) and have agreed to send a check (we'll see). I WILL follow up via a copyright attorney if these are not paid within 30 days. Having said that, this took me about 5 hours in total to research, screenshots, writing emails, printing/addressing/sending registered mail, and now will have to followup with those who feel they can ignore it. If you think checking to see if your images are being used illegally is a waste of time, you're dead wrong! Thanks again Gary for pushing this ball toward completion!

Gary Winchester Martin's picture

That's awesome Mark. Way to take a stand on this nonsense. There is a 3 month grace period on registering your copyrights so if any of your stuff was shot within 3 months ago, get it registered ASAP

Mark Spomer's picture

Gary, yes I have to be better about that part of the process so I can insure the benefits and values provided by registering EVERYTHING I create.

Doc Pixel's picture

Just have to say, after seeing your website and gorgeous photography skills... I can see why you're being ripped off left, right and center. Big 2 thumbs up... and for protecting those beauties! :)

Mark Spomer's picture

Thanks Doc, appreciate the kind words! Nice of you to take the time to comment :)

Doc Pixel's picture

No thanks necessary. Just saying what needed to be said to back up your strategy going after those that decided to lift your photos.

There are "some" people that think the task and time protecting your photos is time better spent taking more photos, marketing yourself better, or bettering your style.

From what I've seen at your site, your doing all of the "Magic 3" with aplomb... so the only thing left IS to maximize your obvious time intensive investment in all of them by protecting the stellar results: your photo artwork.

Keep up the great work and inspiring those of us that need to do more about the "Magic 3".. :)

Steven Erat's picture

Does ImageRights (or any other 3rd party solution you discovered) offer a programming API? An API is really what's needed here, and the US Copyright Office does not offer their own for direct registration programmatically through an app such as Lightroom or other client software.
Leading online services such as Facebook, Twitter, etc offer such APIs, and this is how all the related apps allow you to authenticate and integrate with those services. Take for example Alien Skin's Alt Photo app for iOS. Once you've edited an image then there's the little curled arrow Share icon which takes you to a menu to post the image to Facebook or other social media services. This happens by way of a programming API that those services offer.

With a Copyright Office API (or third party intermediate) then it's a matter of writing a Lightroom plugin in LUA that leverages that API to authenticate (usually OAuth is a good choice) and then consume the services offered by the API to send images for registration and check previous transaction status.

If such an API is available somewhere, then this would be a short hackathon project (that I would personally be interested in since I've been looking for a good use case to inspire me to write a Lightroom plugin).

Clinton Blackburn's picture

Bingo! I want Adobe to focus on making Lightroom better at organizing and editing photos. If the third-party wants more business, said third-party should create an API and plugin to enable the desired functionality. It seems strange that Image Rights has not already done this.

Steven Erat's picture

Yes, Lightroom is extensible, meaning that for features that are not within the products charter, other developers are free to extend the product by creating plugins to implement the desired features.

Copyright Registration in this discussion is not really about a company wanting more business, but rather that the service of copyright registration from within a Digital Asset Management tool would be quite useful and convenient to the professional community of photographers for their business purposes.

Ultimately it would be in the best interest of the service offering registration (US Copyright Office) to create an API endpoint that is consumable by anyone, either private citizens or commercial agencies as third parties. Those third parties would then be free to create clients to the API in any fashion such as smart phone app or Lightroom plugin as long as they meet the API requirements. The revenue generated to the Copyright Office by streamlining the process and growing the user base an order of magnitude or more would probably be considerable, and that incentive alone would seem to encourage the development of such an API.

But, in the end, this is a government agency we're talking about and even the website seems to be stuck in the 1990s. I wouldn't expect an API from them any time soon, making it more viable for third party intermediates such as ImageRights to inject themselves in the workflow as a profitable business built on the ecosystem of copyright registration.

Joe Naylor's picture

Steven and Clinton, you're both right. This article is about the service of copyright registration from within a DAM tool, and we want more business. Over the past five years ImageRights has been almost exclusively focused on how to assess copyright infringement claims and then how best to prosecute them. And through that process and experience have come to truly understand how critical timely registration is when pursuing infringers in the US, regardless of how big or small the claim might be.

We're now taking that knowledge and this year have begun in earnest our product development for automating copyright registration, image search, claims assessment, and claim management. It would be strange if ImageRights didn't do this knowing what we know now. So while I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the feds to put out an API, Steven nailed it when he talks about us serving as that intermediary that can inject ourselves into the workflow process.

Doc Pixel's picture

You might also try hooking up with the guys at The Turning Gate (com). They've been building plug-ins for LR for a very long time and seem to have a good grasp off all of the intracacies associated with creating what you're looking for.

Sharad Mangalick's picture

Hi Gary - Appreciate all the Lightroom love. Feedback from the community is really important and Lightroom is built based on community feedback. We'll take this request under consideration.

In the meantime, we’ve developed an SDK so that companies like ImageRights can extend Lightroom available here

Joe, Please take a look and don’t hesitate to get in contact with me if you have any questions about the SDK or Lightroom.

Thanks - Sharad Mangalick, Lightroom Product Manager (@smangalick)

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