Copyright Transfer - Read the Fine Print Even on the Web


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American Airlines is sponsoring a “Why You Fly" contest. The grand prize is a year’s worth of flying, and most anyone could use that. You enter by submitting a photo, an essay or a video.

On the contest website, you get to the page that is titled, “Legal Terms and Conditions. " You have to scan down to read the entire text. While most folks might “accept" the terms without reading them, this has some fine print that a photographer should read.

The terms state in part: “For good and valuable consideration . . . I hereby assign and transfer in perpetuity to American Airlines . . . all world-wide rights, title, and interest in . . . to all: . . . photographs . . . copyrights (including the right to register the copyright and any renewals or reversions thereof) . . .derivative works, and any other material and/or intellectual property embodied in the material created and submitted by me (“Work") for the American Airlines We Know Why You Fly Contest (the “Contest"). "

If you agree to this, you have just transferred your copyright to American Airlines, regardless of whether you win a prize.

Similar events are occurring elsewhere. The license for AOL’s instant messaging product, “AIM, " gives AOL “all right, title and interest in any compilation, collective work or other derivative work created by AOL using or incorporating [the] . . . content. You grant AOL . . . the irrevocable, perpetual worldwide rights to reproduce, display . . . this content . . . . "

This gives AOL a liberal, free license to use any photo transmitted using “AIM. " To AOL’s defense, such license may be necessary to protect itself from copyright infringement. On the contrary, a transfer of copyright is not necessary for American Airlines to run its contest.

While you might think that you are safe because a copyright transfer must be in writing and signed by the copyright owner, the law has caught up with technology. You now can “sign" a document by responding electronically. A contract may be in any memorandum form, including electronic mail. It is “signed" by any mark, written, stamped or engraved, that demonstrates the intent to agree to the contract.

So read the fine print to protect your copyrights.

Copyright 2005 Carolyn E. Wright


Carolyn E. Wright, Esq. , has a unique legal practice aimed squarely at the needs of photographers. A pro photographer herself, Carolyn has the credentials and the experience to protect photographers. She’s represented clients in multimillion dollar litigations, but also has the desire to help new photographers just starting their careers. Carolyn graduated from Emory University School of Law with a Juris Doctor, and from Tennessee Tech University with a Masters of Business Administration degree and a Bachelor of Science degree in music.

She wrote the book on photography law. “88 Secrets to the Law for Photographers, " by Carolyn and well-known professional photographer, Scott Bourne, is scheduled for fall 2005 release by Olympic Mountain School Press. Carolyn also is a columnist for PhotoFocus Magazine and teaches for Olympic Mountain School of Photography.

Carolyn specializes in wildlife and portrait/event photography. Her law website is


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