We’re getting used to seeing companies, government agencies, and even museums ask for unnecessarily broad copyright terms in their photo contests. Some go as far as having photographers surrender all copyright to the images they enter. Others want unrestricted rights to use photos in any way they see fit, including sublicensing to third parties. And, thankfully, some respect the rights of photographers and other creative artists. The latest example was brought to our attention by NANPA member Mark Larson and, while better than some, still has a few areas of concern.
Since this article comes out on Labor Day, it’s probably fitting that it addresses copyright issues. How cases like these are resolved determines, at least to some extent, how much of the fruit of your labors you can retain. Here are three copyright examples to keep your eye on.
NANPA is busy working for and with nature photographers throughout the year. You know us through NANPA’s Showcase photo competitions, Nature Photography Day, Summits and Regional Field Events, webinars, grants and scholarships. But that’s only part of what NANPA does: a lot of work goes on behind the scenes. One key area of NANPA’s work that sometimes doesn’t get a lot of visibility is our participation in the Copyright Alliance and the initiatives they champion to protect our rights as creative artists. The Alliance just released their end of year report and we thought you’d be interested in what transpired in 2020.
Over the past two years, we have urged photographers to support the “Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2019” (the CASE Act). This bill would create a “small claims court” within the U.S. Copyright Office to handle copyright infringement claims from individual creators and small businesses. That would be enormously helpful for photographers and everyone in the creative community. It’s time to make one last push to get this bill over the finish line and time is of the essence.
Did you know that state governments are immune from suit for copyright infringement? In Allen v. Cooper, the United States Supreme Court recently ruled that state governments are immune from suit for copyright infringement and that existing statutes eliminating that immunity failed to pass constitutional muster. As a result, state entities now have a free pass when it comes to using the work of a photographer outside of an existing contractual relationship.
This is not a hypothetical situation. For example, the University of Houston took an image by photographer Jim Olive off the internet and used it in multiple publications. Despite his dogged efforts, the University got away with it, quite brazenly. Olive uncovered at least 17 other similar infringements by Texas state entities in the course of his lawsuit.
NANPA has signed amicus briefs on the issue on behalf of Mr. Olive and others and supports efforts to pass new federal legislation correcting the problem. The Copyright Office has also asked for information regarding the experiences of artists who have dealt with state entities in order to determine the scope of the problem.
You can be part of the solution! Every voice counts. Help us gather your user experiences by answering this short survey.
Thanks to everyone who made their voices heard this week by contacting their Members of Congress and urging them to vote for the C.A.S.E. Act, H.R. 2426. The good news is that the bill passed the House by a vote of 410 to 6, with 151 co-sponsors. The not-so-good news is that we’re not done yet. While a similar bill, S. 1723 has passed committee, it still has to pass the full Senate, where a vote is not yet on the schedule.
The Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act of 2019, in a nutshell, establishes a copyright small claims court. Currently, content creators, like photographers, must file copyright violation claims in U.S. District Court, where high fees can exceed damages and make it difficult for small businesses to seek copyright enforcement.
NANPA has played an active role in the Copyright Alliance, a coalition of creatives advocating for creators’ rights and the CASE Act. For all the details on the Act, how it would work and the issues it addresses, see NANPA’s CASE Act: Copyright Small Claims page.
Thanks for your advocacy to protect photographers’ rights and keep an eye out for information about how you can help get the CASE Act through the Senate.