Copyright: bane or boon to my profession?

I see copyright as a powerful and important tool in the belt of the photojournalist, although, to be frank, I have a lot to learn about its safeguards, protections, and navigable limitations. It’s all a long journey.

I see copyright as a powerful tool nestled in the belt of those who work in the photojournalistic profession. Beyond a mere tool for the protection of the photojournalist’s rights, though, I see it as an extra line of defense for the social issues we choose to report on, and for the protection of those who appear in our images.

On a career level, copyright is a big boon to my profession. It’s nice to have the economic gifts of my work protected, and regarding my reputation and credibility as a photojournalist, I can sleep well knowing I have mechanisms to clap back against those who would wish to bastardize my work or repurpose it for means that may be far removed from the spirit of my stories. What I find most interesting about copyright laws, though, are the provisions for moral rights, what I see as the “spirit” of the work I produce. As I go about my career, I produce stories to shed light on social issues, for the sake of civil justice. I don’t want anyone twisting and repurposing that. Knowing that I have moral rights over my work truly galvanizes me to pursue my craft with gusto, safe with the knowledge that I have a means to keep people from misrepresenting my work and the stories I choose to tell.

Finally, I’d like to point out what I think copyright would mean for our subjects. Our subjects put their trust in us by allowing us to photograph and document them. As responsible photojournalists, it’s our henceforth responsibility to protect our subjects, and the copyright is key to that end. Since we control who give licenses to, we can keep our images out of the hands of those who would portray our subjects in a harmful way. And so, the first responsibility falls on our shoulders, to make sure our work does not end up in the hands of the unscrupulous.

Of course, defending my copyright will still be a battle that needs to be fought should anyone ever transgress them. What gives me comfort, however, is knowing that I can fight that battle at all — that my work isn’t just open-source freeware for people to poke and play with, or worse, do harm with, to me, my subjects, and the social issues I cover.