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Have your work stolen? The U.S. Copyright office wants to hear from photographers

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Why it matters to you

Image theft is becoming a common occurrence and artists can now get their voices heard during a study on moral law.

Finding a stolen image isn’t just a monetary matter — it’s also a moral one. The U.S. Copyright Office is currently working on a public study on current copyright laws and could strengthen future laws based on that data.

The Copyright Office is currently asking artists — including photographers — for feedback on current law, specifically concerning moral rights, attribution, and integrity. Testimony during a 2015 House Judiciary Committee prompted further digging into current copyright laws and their effectiveness.

The organization held an in-person hearing last year but is now asking for written feedback from artists all over the country. The public is invited to submit comments by the end of the day March 30 with replies to existing comments open until May 15.

The study is looking specifically at noneconomic “moral rights,” or the idea that copyright should also protect personal factors and the artist’s reputation and not just any monetary loss. The list of moral rights also includes the right to be credited when a photograph is used. The Copyright Office is also considering what is referred to as the right of integrity, or the right to keep your own work from being prejudicially distorted or defaced.

According to the notice, the idea of moral rights in international copyright law dates back to the turn of the 20th century in Europe. The idea in U.S. Copyright law is more recent, thanks to the Berne Convention in 1928. But art — and art theft — has changed drastically since then, with a simple web copy, download or screenshot making image theft easier.

The notice of inquiry was initially published in January, but Thursday the Copyright Office extended the deadline for submitting feedback from March 9 to March 30. All comments are required to be submitted electronically by uploading an attachment online and will be posted publicly online.