Copyright, Part One

This is the first of several in a series on copyright, as it stands in the US, and how it affects photographers.

Part One – The basics.

Photography is copyrighted intellectual property, just like books, music and software. Like musicians, authors and filmmakers, photographers are paid a fee for creating the work and then residuals or royalties for the subsequent use of those works. An artist’s ability to profit from their creations is a Constitutional right, Article 1, Section 8:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

Not to get too political here, but… The framers realized that a stable and prosperous society is aided by the ability of the innovative and inventive to profit from their innovations and inventions. This may all seem like political mumbo jumbo, but in the face of those who think copyright is a hindrance to free expression (if you liked Napster, this means you) it’s an important rebuttal. Without the profit motive to, well, motivate us, why create.

Ego? Artistic self-fulfillment? Those are important personally as artists, but it don’t pay the bills. If Merck didn’t think they could make a profit on the development, creation and sale of Gardasil, which will most likely protect my daughter from cervical cancer, then why develop it. Public health is a laudable and noble endeavor and our society should pay greater attention to it than it does, but it costs a lot of money, effort and time to develop this stuff. This sort of development wouldn’t occur without investors. Those investors wouldn’t exist without the profit motive.

Of course the photographic industry isn’t big Pharma, and most photographers don’t have outside investors, but we do have ourselves and our families. You and I have invested in ourselves, our businesses and our craft. We’ve spent countless hours investing in refining our talents, our skills and our craft. This investment is every bit as legitimate as Merck’s, as General Electric’s, as Google’s, and we deserve to profit from our efforts. In fact, it’s our Constitutional right.

Don’t let ANYONE tell you different.

Steve Buchanan is a commercial and editorial photographer based in Maryland. His work can be seen at

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