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Volunteer Recognized for Copyright Advocacy Efforts

By January 20, 2021No Comments
Sean Fitzgerald (center) at 2019 NANPA Summit. Photo by Janice Braud

Texas-based nature and conservation photographer Sean Fitzgerald will be awarded the 2021 NANPA Mission Award during the Nature Photography Virtual Summit April 29-30. Sean is a vocal champion of nature photographers’ intellectual property rights, a cornerstone of NANPA’s advocacy work on behalf of members. His work with both the Copyright Alliance and Coalition of Visual Artists has directly influenced policies, procedures, and legislation for copyright registration and protection in the modern digital world.



Sean is one of two NANPA members that serve as liaisons to both the Copyright Alliance and the Coalition of Visual Artists. Through the combined, tireless efforts of these groups, the CASE Act became law in the final moments of 2020, establishing a small claims court for copyright infringement lawsuits. 

Additionally, in spite of representing one of the smallest organizations in the Alliance and Coalition, Sean took a lead role in drafting recommendations for a more modernized copyright system. He personally gathered information from a survey of more than 10,000 creators and served as primary author of the Coalition’s response to the U.S Copyright Office’s Notice of Intent regarding modernization. As a result of his work, the Copyright Office has structured rules and guidelines that move the office into the 21st century while preserving photographer rights. 

Sean has funded NANPA’s role in these advocacy efforts largely out of his own pocket, personally covering travel expenses for meetings and lobbying efforts as well as volunteering his time for the research, writing, and reporting that made change possible.

Sean’s Perspective on Copyright Present and Future

Pursuing a copyright infringement claim in federal court can be incredibly costly and time consuming. Infringers have learned that few infringed creators will go to the expense of litigation, especially for small infringements…At the end of the last session, Congress finally passed the Copyright Alternative Small Claims Enforcement Act, (“CASE Act”) and the President signed it into law. The CASE ACT  authorizes the Copyright Office to set up and administer a voluntary arbitration-type system that will finally help level the playing field a bit. Sometimes the little guys do win.

I think what truly made it possible was that we brought the many voices of America’s small creators together into a single chorus that Congress could not ignore. NANPA has played an important role in that process, and I am proud of what we have done. 

The CASE Act was important, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. We are also actively pushing for statutory reforms that would remove antiquated legal requirements (like listing publication status), remove the legal landmines peppered throughout copyright law, put some teeth into the DMCA, and enable the Copyright Office to build a copyright registration system that matches the way digital photographers work. My ultimate goal is a system in which photographers can simply pay a subscription fee to the Copyright Office and automatically register their images with the push of one button from within Lightroom or Photo Mechanic, or whatever software they use. It won’t be easy, but I think we have a real chance and we have already laid much of the groundwork.

About the NANPA Mission Award

The NANPA Mission Award, one of four awards recognizing service to NANPA and its members, exemplifies what NANPA is really all about. Recipients epitomize the principles of NANPA’s mission statement:

NANPA promotes the art and science of nature photography as a medium of communication, nature appreciation, and environmental protection. NANPA provides information, education, inspiration, and opportunity for all persons interested in nature photography. NANPA fosters excellence and ethical conduct in all aspect of our endeavors and especially encourages responsible photography in the wild.

When the Awards Committee evaluates candidates for the Mission Award, it looks for evidence of proactive and positive outreach that serves the nature photography community at large. Sean’s advocacy for all nature photographers—professionals and amateurs alike—embodies that criteria.

The Committee also looks for evidence of a sizable and outstanding body of work as a nature photographer, that the methods and practices used to obtain those images are consistent with NANPA’s tenets, and that the images have had a demonstrated positive effect on public awareness of nature.

Sean Fitzgerald talks with nature photographers about copyright protection at the 2019 NANPA Summit in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo by Dawn Wilson

More About Sean Fitzgerald

Sean’s work has been published in a wide variety of publications, and his fine-art prints are found in private and corporate art collections and large-scale installations across the U.S. The Bravo Network has featured his artwork on several home redesign shows including the original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

Smoke and fire of prescribed burn with maximilian sunflowers on the Blackland Prairie at Clymer Meadow Preserve, Texas Nature Conservancy, Greenville, Texas, USA © Sean Fitzgerald

Sean leads photo workshops for Ted Turner Expeditions and has won numerous regional and national photo contests, including the Wildlife in Focus Contest (twice), Texas Tech University’s High and Dry Contest, and PhotoMedia’s World in Focus photo contest. He has been featured in Professional Photographer Magazine, named one of 10 emerging artists to watch in the Dallas area by CBS News, and received the Rising Star Photographer Award at the Fotofusion International Photography Festival. He is a past president of NANPA. 

More Copyright Articles by Sean Fitzgerald

Challenge to Copyright. Did you know that state governments are immune from suit for copyright infringement?
Can Websites Embed Your Instagram Posts Without Your Express Permission?
Viral Images and Photographer Licensing

You can volunteer too!

Volunteers have powered NANPA since its inception in 1994. Past recipients of the NANPA Mission Award include Kathy Adams Clark, Carlton Ward, Amy Gulick, George Lepp, and Jim Clark, among others.