My photography website has always been So Shoot Me!®. Well, not always. For some years before that, it was So Shoot Me!™. (The current website was originally built in May of 2009.)
Notice the difference in the names? In both cases, the name is trademarked. But in the first case, there’s a ® at the end, because it’s a federally-registered trademark. Cost me a bit of money to have that done.
Now I’m finding that it’s costing me bundle after bundle to protect my mark – way more than most people might think, and so far more than I make off selling my photography itself. (My images have sold for as much as $1500-$2,200 per print. Still, the trademark protection costs are too high.)
And so, I’m finding myself at a crossroads in my thinking. To be frank, it’s part of the reason I haven’t been blogging for some time: I hate continuing to put effort into something when I’m not sure of the direction I want to take it.
I think I’ve made a decision. Now that the new “dot photography” domains are available, I’m exploring a switch to RickHorowitz.Photography, although I admit to not being completely comfortable with it. Or maybe “not very happy” is the right way to put it.
Federal registration is supposed to make it possible for one to protect a trademark. The age of the Internet, however, has hit copyrights and trademarks pretty hard. The laws just haven’t kept up with the Internet age. Copyright issues are even more desperate than trademarks on the Internet.
As Christopher S. Reed – another lawyer, and photographer – notes in his new 2015 book:
Copyright infringement of images is rampant on the Internet. The ease with which images can be freely downloaded, copied, and re-uploaded or used in new types of digital content, coupled with a general sense among many Internet users that if something appears online, it’s free for the taking, has led to a widespread infringement problem for photographers. (Christopher S. Reed, Copyright Workflow for Photographers: Protecting, Managing, and Sharing Digital Images, p. 7 (2015).)
I’m a lawyer, and I don’t handle my own trademark protection issues, because I know how deceptively simple things can seem, but how easily things can go awry. Again, from Reed:
Perhaps more than any other area of this book, how to proceed when you identify an infringement can have very significant impacts on your rights down the road….
You’ve probably heard the phrase “anything you say can be used against you” on TV and in the movies when people get arrested. Well, that same principle is true in copyright litigation as well, at least to a degree. Almost anything you say or write to an infringer might be used against you later in court, so it’s very important to get it right, and working with a lawyer to set up the process will help you do just that. (Id., at page 134.)
Many of the problems have similar causes, and consequences, for trademark holders, creating increased expenses for photographers (like me) wishing to put their energies into developing a brand not tied to their own names.
For both copyright protection, and trademark protection, those costs can get to be a problem very quickly. The number of people on the Internet who will take what they have no right to take, without any concern for the impact on the person they’re taking it from, is quite staggering. Some do it out of ignorance; some just don’t give a damn.
Aside from the monetary costs, some days it seems like almost everyone – whether it’s for horrible disgusting unartful snapshots (which too much of it is), or whether there’s actually a potential there for that person to be a professional photographer – everyone thinks the words “so shoot me” are perfect for their social media pages.
My own get lost in the shuffle there. When I do a search on the Internet, my website comes up as number 8 in the list. Mixed in are a few websites with names which would be infringements on my trademark, except that they aren’t in the United States (so there’s technically no infringement; it’s just that I compete with them for “Google space”).
The social media pages are the worst to deal with, because they’re usually just “ordinary” people who aren’t trying to sell their photographic product. And guess what? According to my trademark attorney, there’s nothing I can do about them, unless, and until, they start trying to “use the mark in commerce.”
So I’ve changed the name of my website from So Shoot Me!® to RickHorowitz.Photography.
Although I still intend, for the moment at least, to continue using So Shoot Me!® for commercial purposes, and to continue going after infringers – after all, I have a ton of money invested in shirts, business cards, and other promotional materials – I’m going to start promoting RickHorowitz.Photography, as well.
The day may come, and quickly, when I decide that I’m just going to focus all my efforts on RickHorowitz.Photography, and abandon So Shoot Me!® entirely. I haven’t done that yet, but I’m just getting tired of fighting instead of photographing, spending instead of profiting.
My hope is that fewer people are going to want to steal my name to use in conjunction with promoting their crappy dabblings in photography.
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