The 10 things you need to know about photographic copyright
In my article Why stock images are bad for business! I mentioned Photographic Copyright and that I would expand on it at a later date.
Well it’s taken me a while but here it is:
Copyright is very misunderstood and complicated. But it doesn’t have to be.
Let’s see if I can make it simpler for you in with the 10 things you need to know about photographic copyright.
In your business, you will take or have someone, i.e. a photographer, take photos of customers, products, workplaces, employees, landscapes etc etc.
Often, we don’t even consider the legal aspect of these and use them wherever we need to.
So, without further ado, here’s the 10 things you need to know about copyright.
1 Copyright definition
According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is “The exclusive and assignable legal right, given to the originator for a fixed number of years, to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material”
2 The photographer holds the copyright
Yes, that’s right unless a photographer signs over his copyright to you in a signed agreement, they have the right to do anything they like with any photo they take.
Even if they have taken these as a paid assignment.
So those great wedding photos you’ve got, can be used by the wedding photographer in any way they choose.
There is one very important exception to this. If a photo is taken by an employee during their employment, the copyright is automatically owned by the employer.
3 Editorial copyright
If you use a photo to make a point or tell a story. E.G. the images in this article are not advertising but are there to add substance to the article.
This is called Editorial.
Warning: This can be subjective so there are often exceptions to this.
4 Commercial copyright
When a photo is used to sell or market something then it can come under the banner of commercial use.
In other words, it focuses on the product or service you are selling. If you have a picture of a widget that you advertise on Craigslist with a price on it, then you must have permission from the photographer to use it for that purpose.
The same applies if you are using a photo to depict that this same widget will make life happier and better.
Even though you haven’t got a price it’s still considered that you are marketing this widget and using a photo to do it.
In this instance it’s considered commercial photography.
5 Copyright laws
Laws vary from country to country which makes it difficult if your markets are international.
So be careful when you are using photos for your marketing in a different country.
The info I posted here is based on the US and is very similar in most other countries.
6 Copyright can cover icons.
So, you’re in Paris and you take a great photo of the Eiffel tower.
It’s so good that you think you can use it for one of your marketing campaigns.
Well think again.
There are a lot of icons that you cannot use for your marketing even if you took the photo.
You need permission first.
There are places where you are banned from taking images, especially if you look like a professional. E.G using a tripod or DSLR.
7 Creative Commons
Creative commons is an alternative to rights managed photos.
Most of the photos on Flickr have Creative commons rights.
That means that you can use the photo for anything as long as you give credit to the creator. There are many different types of Creative Common licenses some of which exclude commercial use.
So if you use a photo with a creative commons licence, read the fine print.
8 Internet Photos
The web is awash with photos and there are thousands posted every day.
Each one has been taken by someone who owns the copyright.
If you ‘borrow’ a photo and put it on your site or use it for any purpose without permission you are taking a risk.
They can come looking for you and if they don’t actually sue you they can take up a lot of your time. Don’t do it.
9 Stock photo copyright
Stock agencies will usually have their I’s dotted and T’s crossed so you shouldn’t have any issues there.
But it does pay to check.
Of course, you could pay for the use of a photo and find that it’s being used somewhere else.
That’s a common complaint that I hear about royalty free or sites that will supply free images.
There’s not much you can do about that except take you own.
10 Royalty free
Royalty Free Images are one-time payment for use.
The use/s can be stated on the agreement or they can be used for any purpose.
Either way they are not free.
I could write another article on this one.
The only way to cover your arse (ass) is to get a model release from anyone in your photo. It’s good practice, regardless of whether you think you will use the photo for editorial or commercial use.
It’s not worth the risk
For your bedtime reading check out these:
The Copyright Zone is a book by Jack Reznicki and Ed Greenberg. Formerly called the Photographers Survival manual and primarily US based this book still has lots of good tips and information
Australian Copyright Council
Intellectual Property Office (UK)
Canadian Intellectual Property Office
Last and not least Wikipedia have lots of info here
As you can see there’s a lot to it, so watch out for a follow up article in the future.
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