Syfy’s Heroes of Cosplay hasn’t been winning over many hearts and minds, so far as I can tell, having never watched the show and having a limited window into the cosplay community itself. But now one photographer is trying to get the company to admit that they used his photos without permission and against copyright law.
Yesterday, Darrell Ardita of BGZ studios publicized his efforts to explain to Syfy that some of the photos they have been using in advertising spots for Heroes of Cosplay, specifically those taken by a business partner of his, were used without permission. It appears that Syfy has not done quite enough research into the photos provided by its cosplaying stars, and overlooked that by default a photograph belongs to its photographer, not its subjects.
As Ardita points out, this means that obtaining permission from the cosplayer in the photo is not the primary step in gaining permission to use it. Though he offers an exception that is important for cosplayers to remember:
Q: Whoa, wait a second – I am a cosplayer..are you saying I have no copyrights to the photographs?
This is a VERY HOT and touchy topic so I will not go into much detail. But I will say this: Short answer? No, you have no copyrights.
But this does NOT mean that you can’t have rights. You know how a photographer can whip out a model release form? Guess what? You can whip out your photographer release form too.
Co-authorship of a photograph can be created by a written agreement between cosplayer and photographer. In addition, if you’re a cosplay photographer and you aren’t upfront with your subjects about how their pictures will be used, for example if it’s found out that you make sexually implicit products with your images, you may see a corresponding drop in your reputation.
But back to Syfy. Ardita notified Syfy of the cost of legally obtaining the rights to eight photos whose creator had not been approached by the network for permission before they were used in advertising. First Syfy claimed they had full rights to all the photos provided to them by their cosplaying stars, because they represented an artistic collaboration between cosplayer and photographer regardless of written agreements or a lack thereof. Ardita countered with details of photography copyright law to the contrary, and he says:
Very soon after my response, SyFy did the unthinkable. They turned it around and started attacking the cosplayers in question – which was completely not my intention. SyFy threatened to compromise the careers of the cosplayers featured in the show. Reality TV production at its best.
Everyone needs to know this – the VAST MAJORITY of the cosplayers on the show have forwarded all photographer information over to the studio along with the photographs since BEFORE the show aired. Yes, I do have proof of that too. These people are not stupid – I respect them very much and most of them did 100% the right thing.
The people at fault are those who made the decision to not contact the photographers and still proceed with the show.
As Boing Boing points out, it strains credulity to think that a media enterprise like Syfy was unaware of the details of authorship where photographs are concerned. And if Syfy hadn’t wanted to pay for rights to photos provided by the stars of Heroes of Cosplay, it isn’t as if they don’t have the resources to create some that they wholly own. You can find Ardita’s account of his communications with Syfy at his blog.