I have been studying copyright laws a lot lately. I find our laws very fascinating, but I don’t think that I could practice law professionally (Although my wife Jodie does accuse me of being a closet lawyer when we are having an argument a discussion). There are a lot of things that I enjoy doing, but if I had to do them day in and day out I would lose interest in them. But I do find the study of our laws, their origins and how they have changed (or not changed) to accommodate changes in our society fascinating. Copyright laws are especially interesting.


Copyrighted when it is created

One of the fundamental principles of the copyright laws (at least the ones in the United States) is that you own the copyright and can assert your rights without having to register them. This is in sharp contrast to Trademarks and Patents. Here is a blurb from the US Copyright office FAQs:

Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

The notion of a “created” work is at the heart of copyright laws and you will see “created” woven in and out of the laws. I was a bit surprised when I recently saw a sign at a photography studio that said:

If it is created it is copyrighted

along with a very stern warning that the photos that were taken at the studio were property of the photographer, and that taking the photos to a store and having them duplicated was not allowed. I think a lot of people don’t understand this, because it is a picture of you (or your family or child or dog) and you paid the photographer to take the photos. But according to the law - the photograph is not your yours, it is a work created by the person who took the photo.


Do we capture or create?

If you have seen me at an event or follow this blog, you will know that I am a photography hobbyist. I am forever snapping pictures at events and trying to be the official record keeper. I actually started college as a photojournalism major, so I think it is something that I never quite got over when I changed my major to CIS.

I also like to take photographs in my spare time as we do things as a family. Often times it is pictures of Zoo animals, as my son Hunter loves to see the animals at the zoo or other exhibits. When we the family was on spring break I took some wonderful photos that are on my Flickr Account and I have included some of them in this blog post. Up until now, you may have wondered, what does a picture of a Lizard have to do with copyright laws?

As I was taking these photos I kept thinking back to the sign at the photography studio. I was doing a lot of work to take these photos: finding the perfect angle, adjusting the camera to accommodate for the lighting, making sure the focus was perfect. But fundamentally I don’t think I was creating the photograph. I think the animals that I photographed were the focal point of the photo. I was just the guy that bought the camera along. I think I captured the magnificence that was already there.

If you are someone who makes there living off of copyrighted works, please don’’‘t take my statements wrong. I have a deep respect for works that are created, but I think there are times that we overstate the “created” notion. For example, it is very easy to find photos on photo sharing sights that people have snapped photos of something on the TV and then upload it with “All rights reserved”. There are about a dozen things wrong with that.


Note: The photographs in this blog post were all taken by me at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, IL. They are all available under a Creative Commons License.