Copyright Is Important, But Not Like It Used To Be

[by Thomas Werner]

Copyright is an important right, it affirms ownership, allows us to protect our rights, helps control usage, and gives us the ability to collect damages when our imagery is misused. Though too few do so, as a content creator copyrighting your images, video, animation, etc., continues to be good business.

What has, and will continue to change, is the manifestation of your copyright in both the commercial and non-commercial marketplace. There are a number of forces changing the focus and function of copyright. The first is contractual, as clients continue to ask for ownership, or full rights of release in print and online, you will not only see individual ownership of imagery decline, but also see a rise in how imagery is used in the market place. Clients need to repurpose imagery in multiple forms. Video, photography, graphics, animation, etc., are put into the market with the hope that they are reposted and reused. That is what viral marketing is about, it drives the clients message deeper into the market place, and hopefully onto the personal pages of Facebook, Twitter, etc., at which point the posting of that image, ad, or video becomes a “personal recommendation” of the product, an end result that advertisers have been working to achieve for years.

This also changes the public’s perception regarding fair use. The general public is being “taught” that reuse of an image or video is good, to have a large number of people take or view your work for free it is a positive and normal practice. It is that perception that is driving the value out of your copyright and forcing companies to ask for outright ownership of your work. Given the nature of advertising, increased liability, and the need for viral communication, clients would be foolish not to ask for complete ownership or full rights of use.

In addition to the above, there is also generational gap in the perception of fair use and copyright, a change in how imagery is used to populate blogs and zines online, a move away from a “search based” (think Google) to a “socially based” (think Facebook) method of finding and receiving information, a move from computer to portable device based engagement with each other and media, and a need to redefine and expand educational fair use, all of which are and will affect the value and scope of your copyright as well. I will address these issues in later posts.

On the plus side, as greater control, corporatization, and monetization of the web continues to occur there will be greater control exerted over the use of content and how people pay for it. The desire for profit will drive the desire to exert greater control over content. On the downside, as a pure content producer you will see a decreasing slice of that pie. That doesn’t mean that you should not copyright your work, you should, but it does means that where and how those rights apply will most likely diminish, as will the amount you receive should your imagery be infringed.

By Thomas Werner | Posted: May 14th, 2010 | 4 comments


4 Responses to 'Copyright Is Important, But Not Like It Used To Be'

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  1. People aren’t being “taught” what you claim they are about the appropriation of digital information in the sense that they are being propagandized or otherwise indoctrinated. What’s changed is the technological, material reality that underlies the your vision of copyright as a means to “monetize” and “control” information.” So if people are being “taught” what you claim, it’s merely that they’ve adapted to the new material reality.

    20 years ago the film, music, and publishing industries had complete control over the means of producing and distributing their products. Now those means of production and distribution — at identical levels of production quality and far broader distribution reach — are within the control of anyone with a laptop and an internet connection.

    If you experience that profound a change in material reality you’ll experience a profound change in the law and the application of the law to that reality. There’s no way around it.

    By Peter | May 14, 2010


  2. Thanks John and Steve,
    To clarify it would have been more appropriate to state: “Copyright is an important right….” in the beginning of the initial post. Appreciate the direct feedback and help with clarity!


    By Thomas Werner | May 14, 2010


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    By Stan Difrancesco | Oct 14, 2010



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