Copyright infringement is a serious problem on the internet. It seems that some people believe if an image or writing is published on the internet, then it must be in the public domain. That makes just about as much sense as claiming that a book available at the public library is free to copy and call your own. During the previous month I noticed an increase in copyright infringement of religious imagery used in Christmas cards. No doubt this surge in copyright infringement can be linked to the holidays. After seeing so many copyright infringements masquerading as original holiday art and cards, I wanted to address the issue. It is difficult to prevent copyright infringement. It is especially difficult if someone uses only a portion of your image in a digital composition. The best way to protect your work from infringement is not to publish it on the internet. But since this is the digital age, many artists and photographers are trying to take advantage of the opportunity to display (and perhaps sell) their work in online art galleries and print on demand sites. One easy way to protect your work is to embed watermarks and metadata. Most photo and art editing software permit the owner of an image to embed data such as the creator's name, date created, and location of photograph. Digital Watermarking World is a nonprofit organization where you will find useful information about digital watermarks for your work. You should also register your copyright with your government's copyright agency. You can bulk register your original photographs and art works in the United States with the Copyright Office. Another excellent measure to take is to register your copyright for free at MyFreeCopyright.com. This site is easy to use and has offers a free basic service to register an unlimited number of works. Each work is assigned an unique number and imbedded with a digital fingerprint to make it easy to track your copyrights. If you suspect that your image may be circulating the web without your permission, you can search for your image with TinEye image tracking service. TinEye offers a free basic service which is growing with each subsequent search. You can search by uploading an image or by plugging in the image url from the website where your image is displayed. My experience with TinEYe has been completely positive. I found the service to be accurate and the results are returned quickly. An interesting practice among users on the internet is digital image sharing. A number of sites have cropped up recently that seem to serve no purpose other than a dumping ground for images that members find while surfing the internet. Some of these sites link back to the original location of the image with artist attribution, but many do not. One of the rights of the copyright holder is to copy and distribute their work. In my opinion, image sharing sites violate the rights of the originator of the image. On the other hand, where proper attribution to the originator is given and the work is not offered for sale, it could be argued that it is free advertising. Personally, I would prefer to select where and when my work is displayed. I do not want to see my work displayed anywhere advertising is sold to pornography sites. What, if anything, should you do if you recognize copyright infringement of someone else's work? That is really up to you. I have chosen to report instances of copyright infringement when I find it. Most site administrators are cooperative and respond to infringement complaints by removing your work. Sometimes the site administrators grant their users an opportunity to defend or to explain their use of your image. So don't be discouraged if removal of your work takes a few days.
THE FOREGOING IS OPINION AND NOT LEGAL ADVICE. ALWAYS CONSULT AN ATTORNEY FOR ADVICE ABOUT AND ANSWERS TO YOUR COPYRIGHT QUESTIONS THIS ARTICLE IS ALSO POSTED ON THE FLICKERING LIGHT OF FREEDOM