Your Photos and Copyright

An Opinion piece by Michael C. Lam

Over the last few years I’ve learned some things about the images I produce through photography and the copyright laws that help to protect them, I am by no means a lawyer nor expert on this topic.  This article is based upon what I have learned through discussions, reading and research; the topics are touchy, they are complicated at times, and the simple explanations that I try to give in no way covers Copyright completely.


Your Photographs and Copyright

Unruly GangAny image that you created, as soon as you actuated the shutter by pressing that shutter button, is your intellectual property, and all rights to how the image is copied (copyright) or used is yours.

This inherent fact is the basis for all Intellectual Property Rights laws worldwide. Intellectual Property (IP) includes patents, trademarks, trade secrets along with copyright. Copyright applies more to authors and photographers whose works may be “copied”.  The right to copy the work is owned by the creator of the work, the creator may grant permission for an individual or entity to “copy” that work for use as agreed upon between the creator and the licensee.

Uploading your image to Facebook or Flickr or any other image sharing site does not entitle others to use those images without permission, that it is downloaded and redistributed without the creators consent is unfortunate, but also inevitable.

Most photo sharing sites have their own IP Licenses that are covered in the policy that you agree to when you sign up to join these sites, these policies and agreements are updated periodically as the site owners see fit.  It is your responsibility to read these policies as it pertains to the copyright of your images.  Most of them have some basic stipulations (I will be specifically referring to Facebook at this time),

  • You own all the content and information you postYellow 882
  • You give the site a license to display your image
  • You will not post content or take any action on the site that infringes or violates someone else’s rights

Under the current laws in Guyana, are your photos your property as we understand it?  Yes.

Are there proper laws that specifically cover Intellectual Property rights?  No.

Does this mean that, as Guyanese, we do not have copyright for our photos?  No.

It does mean that bringing a claim against someone for copyright infringement is harder in court.


Capture Guyana

Recently, many members of the Guyana Photographers’ Facebook Group were involved Mash - 0017in a Competition and Exhibition (exhibition currently runs until the 26th April 2014 at the National Cultural Centre) that was organised by the government of Guyana; the inaugural Capture Guyana Photography Competition and Exhibition.  As photographers and IP creators we are collectively and often individually opposed and dismayed at the government’s reluctance to put in place comprehensive modern IP legislation to protect the rights of its citizens, as Photographers who are emerging in our field, we see competitions like this as a stepping stone, and as a way to have our work seen and hopefully valued for what it is.

Contrary to what other advocates of Copyright and IP legislation might propose, we do not see boycotting such events as furthering either our own goals as Photographers or the promotion of the IP legislation.  Yes, we do support the idea of bringing pressure to bear upon the powers that be to show them that we, as content creators, want our work protected, but as artists we also need to produce that art, have it displayed and recognised.

DaycleanIn the Guyana Photographers’ Facebook Group we promote continuously the need to respect the rights of others, especially the Intellectual Property rights of other photographers, the group is about Photography after all.  To have anyone say otherwise about us shows that they do not only know us, but pay us a disrespect for not doing their due diligence and querying first.


The Press and Online Photos

Also a recent occurrence, there was a photo-walk with members of the group to the mining town of Linden and regions on its outskirts, one of the members posted a photo to his own page and to the group, the photo was subsequently used (two days later) in an article in the Daily Chronicle, without his permission.

That member was Kwesi Isles, who also happens to be a journalist.  The photo was used to illustrate the location of the Blue Lakes, where a young man had drowned, because of the circumstances associated with the article, Kwesi did not want to make a big deal of the usage of his image for fear of being seen as callous.  I understand his position and agree to that extent; however, the blatant disregard for his rights by the local press should not go unnoticed, this was done by people who should be aware of IP Rights, themselves being authors (unless journalists do not think their work as being worthy of protection, which I find unlikely)

As I understand it, the image was acquired on Facebook, but not from Kwesi’s page nor from the Guyana Photographers’ Group, it is the claim that it was found on someone else’s page.

Blue - 7598

This brings me to the issue of finding the photographer for the image, while the image may not have a watermark, it is an easy matter to inquire of the person’s page where it was found as to where they found it and trace back from there

Attempts at such identification and contact is to be done using every possible means necessary and not undertaken casually, especially when it comes to using that image for publication as it was done.

Kwesi’s image was not a random image just found, it was sought out because of its content, the newspaper’s agents who found and used Offeringsthe image most certainly did not do comprehensive and diligent research to ascertain the true ownership of the image, their conduct is reprehensible and should not be condoned.

Many of us do not seek remuneration for use of our work, though some of us certainly do, and the majority of us would most certainly be happy with receiving an appropriate fee; what all of us would like is to be credited where applicable and most definitely for permission to be sought prior to using any image of our own creation.

If you do a web-search for images of a specific type, what comes back as the results are not free for the taking, you have a responsibility to identify and contact the owners of those works prior to using them commercially, if using them for a personal project, though many do not mandate it, it is the responsible thing to do to find the name and source of the original creator and credit them.


Lusignan - 6668In closing, I’d like to give some advice to you my fellow photographers, photohobbyists and general photo-taker-outers.  Take your copyright seriously, it is your work, fight for it.  Use the software at your disposal to properly tag your images, to have metadata such as ownership etc embedded into your digital files, when using photosharing sites like Facebook which may strip much of that metadata, use a visible watermark or be blatant about it and use a black strip like I do.

I know that watermarks can be obtrusive in an image, but it works.   I do not agree with people who say that unless it has a watermark then it is open for usage, that is irresponsible, watermarking simply helps to reduce the amount of theft, and will help to immediately identify the image as your own.

I don’t like watermarks personally, but I know their value, and I can more often than not see past them to the beauty of the original image.

All Images (with the exception of Nikhil Ramkarran’s image used below for the profile photo) are copyright to Michael C. Lam and TheMichaelLamCollection.com


Michael C. Lam is a Computer Graphic Artist by profession, and still sees himself as a PhotoHobbyist even after being featured alongside fellow photographer Nikhil Ramkarran at the National Art Gallery (Castellani House).  As may be pertinent to this article, he was the Chief Judge at the recently concluded Capture Guyana Photography Competition. His photos can be seen at his website www.TheMichaelLamCollection.com, although he publishes more to his blog blog.TheMichaelLamCollection.com and he can be followed on his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/TheMichaelLamCollection

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