Authors: Edward C. Greenberg and Jack Rezniki
Publisher: Lark Books
Review by Conrad J. Obregon
It’s easy to think that all one has to do to be a successful photographer is put together some techniques like exposure, composition and post processing. Unfortunately, in this day of internet images, even amateurs have to know something about copyright and professional photographers have to know even more about the law if they want to stay out of trouble. Photographer’s Survival Manual: A Legal Guide for Artists in the Digital Age (Lark Photography Book) tries to help the photographer through the maze of law.
The book has just four chapters. The first deals with the general rules of copyright; the second explains the process of registering one’s copyright with the federal government; the third deals with model releases; and the fourth covers invoices and contracts.
Throughout the book the authors have a bright, breezy and easily understandable style. The chapter on registering one’s works for copyright was the most accessible and least intimidating explanation of the process I have ever read and should dispel any fears of the registration process that a photographer might have felt. The other chapters are equally readable. However I do have a few nits to pick.
(Let me stop here for my disclaimer. Although I have practiced law, I have not done any independent research to verify the accuracy of either author’s statements and you may not rely on my opinion to create any liability on my part. I do note that for many years I did act as a corporate officer responsible for intellectual property.)
The authors state that one must register one’s work to gain access to a court system, and that state courts will not consider a copyright claim, which I believe is a misstatement. However since the recoveries in state courts are so limited for an unregistered work and registration is so simple, as demonstrated by the authors, it is foolish not to register an image unless one wants to release it into the world without a care for what happens to it.
Another nit was the implication by the authors that the terms and conditions of sale can be included only on the back of an invoice. Since an invoice is only submitted for payment, delaying the announcement of terms and conditions until invoice submission is likely to be without effect. The terms and conditions of an agreement should be submitted before any work is done. (However, the terms and conditions provided by the authors are an excellent starting point for any agreement with a client.)
My major complaint is not with what the authors provide, but rather with what they fail to provide. There are many other types of legal situations that photographers will encounter, from entering into a lease of property for a studio to signing an agreement with a gallery to selecting a form of business, that will have serious implications. While I would advise consulting a lawyer in such cases, having a book that provides the photographer with information about what to look for and ask for certainly would be useful in a legal guide.
Not withstanding this comment the issues that are covered in this book are so clearly explained in easy-to-understand terms that most photographers who care about their images will benefit from a reading.