photo copyright

8 Facts Every Photographer Should Know About Photo Copyright

1. You have full and sole ownership and control over an image you’ve taken. But why?

The moment you snap a picture grants you full and sole ownership and control over what will happen to your image. According to the US Copyright Act of 1976, you as the author have the

  • Right to reproduce – you decide if and how many copies of your photo shall be made;
  • Right to derivative works – you decide whether or not and how your image can be altered;
  • Right to distribute copies – you decide to whom you rent, sell or lend your photos under which conditions;
  • Right to display – you decide where, how, and under which conditions your works will be publicly displayed.

When it comes to photo copyright, it doesn’t make a difference if you’re a pro or a hobbyist – as long as you’ve taken the image, it’s yours. However, if you’re a professional photographer publishing your images online or otherwise, chances of people illegally using your photos without your permission are higher. That’s why you should put more effort into protecting them. How? Read fact #3.

Side note: if a monkey takes a selfie with your camera, you fight for your copyright in yearlong lawsuits and are likely to file for bankruptcy – just google Naruto et al. vs. David Slater.

2. Most photographs’ copyright lasts life plus 70 years

The copyright of photos that have been created after January 1, 1978 lasts “life plus 70 years or 95 or 120 years, depending on the nature of authorship,” according to the US Copyright Office.

3. There are different options to copyright your images, but only one official way

Besides avoiding photo copyright infringements in the first place through watermarks, Creative Commons licenses, and website code (find more information about this in our article about image rights), you can also register your creative works with the US Copyright Office. Registration will protect your and your clients’ interests, protect published and unpublished work in the US as well as in countries with which the US has copyright agreements.

4. The best ways to sell your images

You can sell your images

  • On your own website;
  • Through third party websites or
  • To newspapers / magazines and other print and online publications.

The images you sell through third party websites are protected through Creative Commons Licenses and you are free to choose which license you attribute to which image.

5. Technically, Facebook & Instagram are free to do whatever with your images, BUT

You’ve probably guessed it already – and you’re right: technically, the major social media image sharing platforms such as Instagram and Facebook (the former is owned by the latter) could do anything with your images if they wanted to because you agreed to grant them “a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license.” Without this permission, however, they also couldn’t show your photos to your friends. When Instagram tried to use users’ images, they were quickly called out on it and refrained from any similar actions, so it’s unlikely for the tech giants to do repeat this mistake.

Social media users who want to repost your image have to ask you for permission because after all, you are still in charge of the photo’s copyright. However, users may publish your images under fair use. But what does this mean? If someone posts your images “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, [it] is not an infringement of copyright” (Source: 17 USC Section 107).

If you find someone posting your images on social media without your permission, you can send them a “cease and desist” letter through an attorney. In case you’re able to prove that the use has harmed you, you can file a claim for statutory damages with the U.S. Copyright Office, but that’s only possible when your work has been registered with them.

photo copyright

6. It’s perfectly fine to shoot people in a public place; however, selling these photos is not

You are not allowed to use photos of people whose faces can be recognized to promote a product. Therefore, stock photo websites require model releases. However, you’re free to shoot whatever and whoever you want if they’re in a public place (excluding bathrooms – duh – and a few other exceptions where privacy is expected). These images can be used as art or even sold to newspapers. That’s why it’s ok for paparazzi to sell their images to the tabloids.

7. There is an easy way to find out whether your images are used illegally

…and it’s called reverse image search. Google, Bing, and Tineye can perform it when you upload an image or paste a URL of a picture and will tell you where your photos have been used.

We at LAPIXA also offer reverse image search for your images, even if they have been cropped, edited or otherwise altered. Start here by uploading your images.

8. You as a photographer can get paid big time if someone has used your image(s) without your permission

Say you can prove that your photo copyright has been violated. You know how much money the photo thief may have to pay? Between $200 and a whopping $150,000 for each image s/he infringed. Plus attorney fees.

You as the rightful owner of the image may have to pay up to $3,000 for a threat letter while a following trial may result in a six figure amount. However, there is a solution with which you don’t have to pay a single penny out of your own pocket.

LAPIXA can find your illegally published images online and enforce your image rights internationally at absolutely no cost for you. If we have to, we will even go to trial for you and if we’re successful, you will receive the money you deserve.