Photographers often get worked up into a frenzy when they feel their business has been abused or taken advantage of. This isn’t more true than when it comes to discussing the improper use of images that are proofed online or shared via social media.
But it’s important to remember that nearly every paying customer you’ll ever have is far from privy to the copyright complexities of the photography industry. While you might understand what's legal or ethical when it comes to photos shared online, most people are pretty much in the dark. It is for this reason that I believe we photographers need to stop the lengthy copyright warnings often preceding shared galleries and teasers from sessions.
I know that I’m not exactly going to make a ton of friends with this position, but hear me out.
I know that your photos are your babies. You made them, you extracted them from the hazy ether and brought them to life. You cropped them, edited them and made damn sure they had their best face forward. You should feel this way. I know I do.
Here’s the thing: Your client feels pretty similarly. It's their wedding that they planned and their relationship they committed to, or it's their family they’ve raised with love and awe, or their business that they started with the last pennies of their savings account. They feel the same attachment and the same emotional sense of ownership over these images. They should feel this way, and you should want them to. That feeling gets you hired, referred and otherwise praised aloud.
Now before you decide I’m an idiot and want to run me down with the proverbial internet band wagon of dissent, realize I’m not offering this emotional attachment to your images as justification for breaking laws or doing unprofessional stuff with said images.
Not at all. I’m just asking you to understand that these emotions in conjunction with your client’s almost certain lack of understanding of intellectual property laws and ethics is going make your mini lesson posted above the images seem crass, or maybe even a little cold.
Forget the fact that they might just download and throw some Instagram filters on your photos regardless of your ever-present warning. Your client, in reading this little “Please feel free to tag yourselves! But please do not crop, print, edit or otherwise alter the images!” now feels alienated from their own event, family, business, whatever. Rather than lead with an illustrative phrase or colorful title that elevates their emotions, you’re hitting them with the ever-so-warm-and-fuzzy “Please feel free to tag yourselves! But please do not crop, print, edit or otherwise alter the images!”
To me this is just bad marketing. I know, I know. The industry is under attack. You can’t just let your clients walk all over you. I've heard this all 100 times. Nay, 1,000. But it doesn’t matter how right you are if your clients or their friends and family view you as being condescending or somehow putting yourself first. You risk alienating them.
For me, this risk is far greater than the off-chance that an occasional client misappropriates one of my images from social media for an unapproved purpose, or does a bad re-editing. Though (call me naive) I really doubt most of my clients are pulling this crap.
I’d much rather make my interactions with my clients a little more informal when it comes to Facebook. I want an immersive, fun experience that shows I'm more invested in our shared experience than the nitty-gritty rules. Stating a warning before showing something beautiful and emotionally evocative creates a bit of a disconnect. Heck, I don’t even use watermarks on shared images.
I think any discussion of legalities and what access clients have to images is best left to your contract and your consultation. Though this works for me as a wedding photographer, I realize it may work differently for people in different niches.
Do you feel it is necessary to publicly edify your clients about your copyright? Why or why not? Tell us in the comments.