It seems almost everyone has a smartphone. That's why we're seeing more videos of police shootings, natural disasters, violent demonstrations, accidents, acts of heroism and other unusual events.
But some smartphone users may not be prepared for the moment when they need to record such an occurrence. The video has to be shot well to show clearly what happened. In addition, the video may have monetary value if the right steps are taken to protect it.
Things to keep in mind:
■ Get an "establishing" or wide shot first that shows the entire scene. Unless something is happening quickly, do not begin with a tight shot of people or the event. Get at least a 10-second shot from enough distance to show all the key elements.
■ Hold the camera steady. This is hard to do with a smartphone, especially if you have to move to keep up with the action. Buy a hand grip that is made for smartphone video. They are inexpensive and small enough to fit in a pocket.
■ Practice with the grip. When it comes time to record the event, you may not be able to get close and will need to zoom in. As the shot gets tighter, the slightest camera movement can ruin the video. The grip will help you hold the camera steady while zooming or panning. Always shoot horizontally.
■ Protect yourself. Try not to let those involved know you are recording them. If someone committing a crime sees you doing so, you could be in danger. Also, police have confiscated cameras and arrested those shooting video even when the person was on public property and out of the way. And don't ever go onto private property.
If the video has financial value, you need to take steps to preserve it:
■ Don't post the video on social media sites. Most have terms of service that, in effect, allow them to use your video any way they want, including selling it without your consent or paying you. If you want to show it yourself, upload it to your own website.
■ Unless the video is nothing special, don't give it to a news organization or website just for an on-screen credit. Insist on being paid. If you record a crime being committed, share it with law enforcement. But if a news organization wants your video, negotiate and be willing to walk away if the deal is bad.
■ Register the video immediately with the U.S. Copyright Office. It can be done online for $55. Do this before sharing it with anyone who wants to make it publicly available. Once your video has been shown, others will think they are free to use it. By registering it, you can take advantage of the copyright law that vigorously protects your rights.
Courts can award up to $150,000 for each infringement of your copyright if it is willful. You can recover the cost of hiring an attorney; obtain a court order prohibiting further unauthorized use; and get other benefits. Do not give away or sell the copyright. The money you get for letting a news organization show your video may be a fraction of the settlements your attorney (one with copyright litigation experience) will obtain from those who use it without your consent and do not want to go to trial.
■ If a news outlet is willing to purchase a license for the video, it will want access right away. If you don't have time to consult a lawyer, make sure the agreement has an ending date and states that no one else can use the video without your permission.
■ Request in the license agreement that the copyright symbol and your name be included on the screen. This is not required by copyright law, but it improves your chances of showing willful infringement if someone else uses the video.
By preparing in advance, you are more likely to record a better video and to protect your rights.