Who owns the photos you take with your smartphone?
And how to make sure it is you.
How many of us use smartphones for taking pictures? An average person does it more often than they make actual calls. According to the estimations, last year alone more than 1 trillion digital photos were taken. Thanks to smartphones, millions of people around the globe are turning into prolific photographers.
There is, of course, a fair share of selfies, food porn and pet pics in that trillion (who’s not guilty here?). They will just stay there taking up precious memory until you ultimately run out of space and be ready to make the sacrifice. Yet some of the photos we took we will be sharing with friends, family and… total strangers online. But do you know who owns the photos that you share?
I took a photo = I own a photo, right?
The fact that you’ve shared an image doesn’t make it yours. The fact that you took it does. Or does it?
The photographer who pushed the button owns the copyright, yes. But can you prove it? Fun fact: the chances are that the photos you take with your phone have no copyright info whatsoever. Meaning once you share them online anybody can claim your work and use it as they wish.
How come? It just happens so that the most stock camera apps (the ones that come pre-installed on your smartphone) keep no track of authorship or copyright. If you use a professional camera, the creator’s name or camera ID, as well as copyright, would be part of your metadata. Smartphone stock cameras usually do not include this info, they do not leave you an option to add it manually either. So while your pics will still contain the info about your camera type, EXIF data, and even location where the photo was taken, there will be no trial of authorship whatsoever.
Here you can see what sort of metadata your photos contain and whether they have a copyright.
- Got it? Congratulations, your camera app creators really do care about you and your privacy. Take a minute to appreciate this fact as it’s quite rare.
- “Copyright not found” is the message you see? No worries, you are far from being alone. But what now? Why should you even care?
Here’s why you should care.
- First, finding photos with no copyright others will be taking credit for your creative work. Well, perhaps you are not a photography guru and don’t mind, but getting some bits of appreciation would be nice, wouldn’t it?
- Second, it’s not just appreciation and likes, but also money. If you have heard of the term freebooting, you know how easy money could be made by businesses using non-copyrighted (or sometimes stolen) content with no credits, no permissions, no fucks given? But most people — including many photographers — have no idea of the scale of this.
- Third, and clearly the most unpleasant one, your pictures might end up promoting something that you wouldn’t be so proud about. I won’t even go into examples here, you can think of some possible scenarios yourself. Let’s rather talk about what can be done so you don’t have to think of it.
Now, what can you do to set your authorship?
For starters, you can use another camera app instead of the one that came with your smartphone. There are a number of options for each operating system. Here some worth considering for iOS and Android.
- Open Camera is an Open Source Camera app for Android phones and tablets. It also has a number of handy features to improve your photography and it’s absolutely free to use. On the downside, the app’s interface is not that intuitive which makes it hard to make a switch and might discourage some users.
- HedgeCam 2 has a nice customizable interface. It’s also free, with no ads. Unfortunately, unlike the Open Camera, it doesn’t support RAW format (but nor does your stock camera), just JPEG & PNG.
- Camera+ 2. Apart from allowing you to set the copyright, it offers improved dual camera support, built-in raw & depth editing, new sharing options and a “Smile Mode”. It’s available for $2.99.
- Halide is referred by some as the best third-party camera app for iPhone. It also has a number of features that can bring your photography to a whole new level. It’s a bit more costly though, priced at $5.99.
What else can you do?
If, say, you want to stick with your original camera app, you can instead edit your metadata and add copyright postfactum though applications like
The fact that these apps exist means, unfortunately, that others can edit the metadata as easy as you do. Everybody can access and make the changes whether it’s their photos or yours. It simply doesn’t matter. So all that’s left is to rely on fellow users’ decency… or try to come up with an alternative approach to managing your photos which we strive to do in Sensio.Photo.
P. S. Worth mentioning here that there are, of course, other means that photographers use to protect there work. Adding watermarks, not sharing photos online at all, or sharing just low-quality previews are among them, but these are not the topic of today’s post. Besides, none of these has proved to be effective in preventing copyright violation so far.
P. P. S. There are many things at the current start of photography copyright, image management and privacy that don’t quite add up. In this post, I have touched just a few of them, but more to follow.
We believe that the rules of the digital creative market need to be transparent, and the concepts of privacy and the rights of a creator should be in the system’s core. Working on Sensio we aim to establish just that: the trustworthy, open and friendly environment for the creation and sharing of digital assets.