Know and protect your image rights

As a photographer you want to make sure that no one is using your images without your consent, or better yet, selling them to third parties. Knowing your image rights will help prevent that, but in case you still find one of your photos used without your permission, we will tell you what to do about it and how to demand the money you deserve.

What kind of image rights exist? And what do they mean for you as a photographer?

Thanks to the copyright of an image you have created, you have full and sole ownership and control over what happens to your image. The US Copyright Act of 1976 with its subsequently added amendments grants the owner of an image five rights:

  • Right to reproduce: You as the photographer decide if and how many copies of your work shall be made.
  • Right to derivative works: You decide whether or not and how your image can be modified, i.e. through cropping, editing or coloring.
  • Right to distribute copies: You can rent, sell, or lend your images to whoever you want under whatever conditions you choose.
  • Right to public performance: This applies more for videos rather than images, but with the right to public performance, you can decide where and how your intellectual property will be publicly performed – on the radio or TV, or in a park, for example.
  • Right to display: You choose where and under which conditions your work will be publicly displayed.
How can I as a photographer protect my images?

As a photographer, you have several possibilities to protect your images besides the given protection of the US Copyright Act:

You can add watermarks or copyright marks to your images or, if you choose to share them online, upload them in a smaller resolution.

Also, you have the chance to disable the right click function on your images through code: Just add

<img src=”image-url” oncontextmenu=”return false;”>

to the code of your web page.

Another trick to not have your images used illegally is to eliminate image indexing through search engines such as Google and Bing. Google explains how to do this here.

You can register published or unpublished single images or a group of images with the U.S. Copyright Office. Doing so will allow you to collect statutory damages as well as attorney fees.

If you sign a work-for-hire agreement, make sure you read the conditions about your image rights and alter them if needed to safeguard the use of your photos.


How can I protect my photos through licensing?

You can license your images via Creative Commons – a non-profit organization who gives non-legal experts the chance to protect your images and allow others to use, modify, or distribute your images according to the license you choose. You can decide whether or not you want people to be able to use your images (non-)commercially, attribute them to you, modify or share them.

For more detailed information about Creative Commons Licenses, please find our article “Can everyone use Creative Commons licenses without restrictions? Here’s how Creative Commons actually work”.

image rights

How and where can I sell my images?

The three best ways to sell your stock photos are

  1. On your own website
  2. Offering your photos to newspapers or other online and print publications or
  3. Through third party websites.

The most popular third party websites on which to sell stock photos are Shutterstock, Fotolia, Dreamstime, 500px, Getty Images, and istock. These third party websites use Creative Commons licensing, which will allow you to determine further use of your image by the buyer.

To find out how to create stock photos people want to buy and what you can and cannot show in such photos, read our article on “How to successfully sell your stock photos”.

Copyright vs. right of publicity

Whereas you as the creator own your pictures thanks to copyright law, an identifiable person in your image can claim his/her personality/publicity rights. He/she has to give written consent to you so that you’re allowed to use the photo where he/she is recognizable. Also, ridiculing a person in an image could get you into legal trouble as can taking pictures of a person and using it to promote a product or company.

Additionally, certain landmarks, ceremonies, company logos, currencies, signs, etc. are trademarked and thus, you are not allowed to publish or use your photos containing such locations or items commercially. For an extensive list of what shouldn’t be in your (stock) photos, check out this article.

Uploading images on social media – who has the image rights?

When you upload your photos onto the two main image sharing platforms Facebook and Instagram (which is owned by Facebook), you agree to grant them “a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license,” which means that they’re basically allowed to do whatever they want with your images, for example using it in one of their ad campaigns. The tech giants could even transfer this license to a third party or profit from your image; however, they’re unlikely to do so because this would upset users who would leave the social media platforms. This scenario has already happened, but caused such a backlash from users, that Instagram changed its Terms of Service again.

Users who want to repost your image have to ask you for permission because after all, you are still in charge of the copyright. However, users may publish your images under fair use. But what does this mean?

What is fair use?

The Copyright Act protects your images; however, it also allows people to use someone’s work under the following circumstances:

“the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.
In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
the nature of the copyrighted work; the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.”

Source: 17 USC Section 107.

You discovered one of your images has been used without your permission – now what?

First things first, screenshot the website that used your image and save it as proof.

You can search for the contact information on the website and write a letter to the person responsible for stealing your photo, asking them to take down your image.

If you can’t find that person, contact the web host of the website you found your image on and fill out a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) form. They will promptly take down the content:

There are two exceptions: If you were hired by an employer to take photos and signed a contract that releases the image rights from you or if you uploaded your images to a site to whose Terms of Service you agreed, which stated that you’re giving them the image rights. In both cases, you transferred your image rights to a third party.

What are the legal consequences for copyright infringers and how much can you earn from illegally used images?

If you can prove that someone illegally violated the copyright of one of your images, i.e. not used it under fair use, the person will have to pay you any amount between $200 and $150,000 for each image infringed. He/she will also pay all court and attorney fees and may even go to jail. 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.