Industry-Wide Survey Reveals 67% of Professional Photographers are Affected by Unauthorized Use of Photos

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Professional Photographers of America surveyed nearly 2,000 members on prevalence, impact and reach of copyright infringement

Copyright Infringement Matters and affects 67% of Professional Photographers according to PPA Survey
The vast majority of professional photographers are mom and pop business owners, whose income loss from copyright infringement can be the difference between a trip or staying home for the holidays...

According to a recent industry survey by Professional Photographers of America (PPA) on the prevalence and impact of copyright infringement among professional photographers, 67% of the nearly 2,000 respondents said they have had photographs used without their permission. Of that group, more than half estimate unauthorized uses of their images totaled five or more in the past five years.

“These victims of infringement are mom and pop businesses,” says PPA CEO David Trust. “The income they lose from just one infringement can determine whether or not a hard-working photographer gets to take her first family vacation in five years, sign her child up for little league or piano lessons, or pay the mortgage. These may not be huge amounts of money to some, but they make a big difference to a small business owner.”

Internationally renowned photographer and PPA member Anne Geddes agrees: “As a professional photographer of over 30 years, I vividly remember our early battles to have copyright automatically owned by the photographer… [Today], with ubiquitous imagery flying around on the Internet, it is critical that professional photographers are able to safeguard copyright on their images. I fully support any efforts to facilitate a more streamlined process for claims to be made against any breaches of copyright, whether large or small. The work of professional photographers must be respected and safeguarded.”

According to Trust, what concerns the organization more is that nearly 96% of professional photographers also stated that they do not regularly register the copyright of their photos with the U.S. Copyright Office. Given that nearly 99% of photographers surveyed believe that copyright protection is an important aspect of their careers, Trust does not believe that the low registration results from under-valuing copyright but rather cites a lack of enforcement mechanisms made available by the law as the primary reason.

“Our hope is to promote public awareness of photographic copyright and to educate photographers of their rights as creators,” he says. “We aim to ensure professional photographers understand every aspect of copyright protection and the steps that can be taken to protect their work including the benefit of registration, but we recognize that, coupled with education efforts; we must address legislative shortcomings with the current copyright system in America.”

Trust adds that PPA spent many weeks in Washington, D.C. in the past several years trying to thwart the copyright challenges facing professional photographers by advocating to modernize the Copyright Office and institute an effective small claims process, among other efforts.

Here are some tips photographers can use to help prevent copyright infringement:

  •      Have a conversation with clients to educate them on photographic copyright and what they can and cannot do with your photos.
  •     Mark all work with a copyright notice (i.e. ©YEAR. Studio Name) where it will be displayed publicly, especially online.
  •     Register all work with the U.S. Copyright Office (
  •     Stay up-to-date on copyright law and potential changes.
  •     For more information on how to protect images, download PPA’s free Copyright Kit.

About PPA:

Professional Photographers of America (PPA) is the largest international non-profit association created by professional photographers, for professional photographers. Almost as long-lived as photography itself, PPA’s roots date back to 1869. More than 28,500 photographers belong to PPA as it helps them be more successful through protection, education and resources. See how PPA backs its members and helps them Be More at

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Carla Plouin

Jef Tingley
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