Copyright Confusion

December 23, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

CuriousCurious Copyright Confusion

Despite hours of Youtube and countless articles and on Copyright, I have noticed on social media there still is quite a bit of confusion regarding this issue. It can be confusing in some cases, since local jurisdictions may deal with the issue in an inconsistent manner. I will re-state what I mentioned in my previous post that I am not an attorney, so the information that I provide here should be considered general in nature and one should contact a licensed attorney local to your area for specific questions.


The photographer snaps the shutter, the image belongs to the photographer. This principle in most cases is true even outside of the United States. Keep in mind though, that even though you own the image your legal rights may be limited unless you register your images with the  Copyright Office  . Specifically, your right to seek monetary damages if your image is stolen will be significantly limited.

So, I can do anything I want with the images that I own.. right?

Actually, no. You can not produce defamatory purposes. There was a run several years ago relating to people posting revenge-porn on various social media sites. There can be civil and even criminal penalties for those posting derogatory images nude or otherwise on social media.

With a couple exceptions, if the person is recognizable in the image, you may need their permission, at least within the United States. This is particularly true if you are promoting yourself or your business. It is also true if you are selling prints of that person in order to make a profit for yourself.

Now you 'may not' need permission if you are photographing a public figure (politician), if you are providing newsworthy images to a media source, providing images for teaching purposes, or for research. 

Most professional photographers are familiar with model releases Download one here.  The wording on releases can vary greatly, but essentially is an agreement between the photographer and subject that allows the photographer to use the subjects image.

So, I can own the images that I take in my friends house ...right?

Yes, you own them, but unless you have a release you may not be able to do much with them. Your friend has a realistic expectation of privacy in his or her own home or within their property (Fourth Amendment- US constitution). Your friend may tell you that you may NOT post any of the images on social media or your website or for that matter print any images and distribute them. Your friend can tell you to STOP taking pictures and you are legally obligated to stop taking pictures. By extension, certain privately owned businesses can restrict you from taking pictures on their property.

NOW..once someone steps onto public land, all bets are off. A person does not have a right to control his or her likeness once on public land (including a public street). You can photograph anyone on public grounds, although it is always wise to ask first. Some people can get quite angry about being photographed! There are street photographers who generally ask first and can submit images to media sources or even publish images in books for educational purposes about people or places.  Once again, if you are profiting personally from images, a model release in most cases will be necessary.

Social Media use...

Most people are aware that social media can use images that are posted on their sites. When you post on social media, you are licensing the platform to use your images. You are NOT licensing other users to copy your images. Technically, if you post an image and other user re-posts your image it could be considered a violation of copyright. If that user crops that image and removes any watermark, the user could suffer a fine of up to $25,000 dollars!

Remember, that if you post on social media, you are publishing an image just the same as if you were to publish it in a book. Think about whether you need a release as mentioned above.

Selling an image on a paid site...

Everything above applies, that is to say you will almost always need a release. Well, what if the image is a selfie? You own the image, and you certainly have willingly published it so all should be good. On the other hand, a model or other subject who does not own the image may not legally profit by posting on a paid site (One can not sell a car if they do not own it).  The subject of course can contact the photographer to gain a license for sale. The photographer may want to split any profits made from the sale.


I hope this overview helps a little to enhance understanding. Keep in mind that these are general principles and certain areas of the country and most certainly outside of the United States things could vary dramatically. Any comments, let me know!







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