Know Your Online Baby Photo Rights
I’ve been reading your blog since Ezra was a little baby. I lovelovelove it! Your boys are totally delicious (is that a weird thing to say? I feel like that was weird.)! Congrats on baby Ike and pretty much being kick-ass in general! I recently gave birth to my own little man named Archer. Yay boys! I also happen to be breastfeeding him as I’m typing this (TMI?). Yay boobs!
Anyhoo… I started a blog a few years ago to keep my friends/family in the know about my wedding planning and stuff. Well, turns out people really like babies. Now that Archer is here, and thanks to our good friend Social Networking, I have “a lot” of people looking at my blog. Here’s the part where I have a question:
Sooooo… how do I copyright a blog? I went to the copyright.gov website and my mind exploded. I mean, I’m no Tolkien, but I don’t want what I write or pictures of my kid stolen.
Okay, so. This is a topic near and dear to my heart, obviously as an online writer/blogger/poster-of-kids-photos, but ALSO because in my last years of college I switched from an English major to Communications, with a focus on communications law. I then proceeded to do absolutely nothing with that particular focus, except develop a lot of headaches during each and every Internet kerfluffle over stolen posts and photos because there is sooooooo much misinformation flying around about copyright, trademark, fair use, plagiarism and what these terms mean out here in the wild ol’ Internet.
In other words, hold onto your butts, because I’m about to get SUPER CRAZY BORING:
In order to “copyright” something — be it a piece of writing, a photo, a song — you only have to create it. That’s it. The act of creation makes it yours. Sure, you can (and should) add one of those little “COPYRIGHT 2011 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DON’T STEAL YOU JACKWADS” things in the footer or sidebar of your blog, and you can (optionally) file various forms and things with the copyright office or post a Creative Commons license spelling out what usage you’re okay/not okay with, but here’s the thing: You still own your words, photos, or other work even if you don’t do any of that. If you find that someone has jacked your blog posts or photos, all you really “need” is a way to prove that you wrote/took the photo FIRST. Public blogs, having nice things like timestamps and dates and URLs and all that, make this job pretty easy.
(For things not so easy to prove, like say, the draft of the novel you’re about to send out to publishers, filing with the copyright office is helpful, because it gives you the proof you need that you created X work on Y date and that Z work was created later and is a big ol’ stealypants. Publication is not required to claim copyright.)
What you are probably thinking of is trademark. Trademarking is more complicated and definitely requires filing forms and paying a few hundred dollars and has a higher burden of proof on you, the author, to provide evidence that yes, you are entitled to a particular trademark because it’s yours, you thought of it first, and it doesn’t infringe on existing trademarks (i.e. a cartoon named Mackey Mouse) or is an attempt to trademark something that shouldn’t be trademarked (i.e. the word “Mouse”). Most bloggers honestly don’t need to worry about trademarking anything beyond say, their blog/brand’s name. (Think “Alpha Mom” or “Dooce” or “Mamapop” — all trademarked.) A registered trademark gives you SUPREME POWER AMMO if someone were to come along and try to confuse readers by creating a site with the same name or logo or something super-similar (even in another language).
However, even if your blog name/brand/logo is trademarked and someone steals the CONTENT of your blog, you’re still talking copyright, not trademark. And you will always, ALWAYS own the copyright to your blog and its contents. (Provided you didn’t steal them from anyone else. WORMHOLEOMG.)
But. Listen. You can copyright, Creative Commons and trademark to your hearts’ content, but none of these things can in and of themselves prevent your writing or photos from being stolen, or for your copyright from being violated by people who don’t do a good due-diligence Google before deciding on a blog/brand name. The folks who steal are either 1) completely ignorant that stuff they see on the Internet isn’t up for grabs, or 2) know better but don’t care.
I’ve had entire posts stolen and republished on someone else’s blog. I’ve had my RSS feed scraped, I’ve had photos stolen, blah blah blah. So I fight back, each and every time. I know my content is mine, I know a violation when I see one, and no, I don’t really care if it’s just some teenager on MySpace or a major corporation. It’s WRONG. STOP IT. I make a polite attempt to contact the violator and ask them to remove my stuff. If that fails (and oh, it so often does), I move on however I deem appropriate: Reporting them to whatever hosting/blogging service they are using, sending DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notice or a cease-and-desist letter, etc. And of course, a brutally public shaming online. Heh.
One more thing: If you are using any third-party service — like Flickr, Facebook, etc. — it’s a really good idea to actually read the terms of service and privacy policies and all that. Flickr had trouble with companies treating it like a free stock photo site for awhile because it expected users to set the usage rules for their photos themselves and some people didn’t know this…and some companies just went and ignored the little “no commercial use/all rights reserved” notices ANYWAY. Read the fine print and find out if there’s something the service expects YOU to do — some setting or checkbox — to ensure that if you come to them for help with a violation, they will agree that you did everything “right” and the copyright thief is in the wrong. (And don’t even get me started on Facebook.)
Oh wait. I done got myself started: A very shady/spammy company recently swiped a photo of Ike from my blog and used it in a Facebook ad. When I complained on Twitter and Facebook I was immediately swamped with misinformation from people about Facebook’s policies. Everything from Facebook owning all commercial rights to anything and everything you post there, so if I uploaded the photo to Facebook that’s “why” this happened (not true), from companies having permission to use your photo albums as stock photo sources (also not true — there was a time when your profile photo could be used to promote pages you “Liked” to your friends if you didn’t change a setting, but that’s since changed and NEVER have companies had the right to use your personal photos in ads) and my favorite, which was that since I linked to my blog posts from Facebook, that gave the company the right to take a photo from there. WHAT THE WHAT?
I spent an hour at Facebook’s Help Center reading up on their privacy/copyright policies and reported the CRAP out of that ad, because it was in clear violation of Facebook’s Terms of Service (TOS) for advertisers. The ad was quietly pulled a couple days later, though it wouldn’t surprise me to see it again under a different ad buy. (I could never track down contact info for the offending company. SO SHADY.)
It’s a really crappy feeling having something stolen — particularly a BABY PHOTO. It’s a violation, pure and simple. For some people, it’s not worth the risk, so they password protect their blogs or don’t keep a blog at all. Some people still like to blame the blogger for posting the content in the first place, because they should have known it was a risk. Well, yeah. I know it’s a risk. I also know that if I leave my house and cross the street, there’s a risk of getting hit by a car. Instead, I know my rights, I know how to fight back. Again: the act of creation gives you copyright. Don’t let the dirtbags out there stand in the way of creation, because it’s an awesome thing.
Photo credit: ThinkstockPublished August 29, 2011. Last updated July 18, 2017.