In deciding on photos to include in our blog, our memoir, on our social networking sites, or on the cover of our historical novel or how-to book, we should always consider the following points in determining the wisdom of our choices.
Buying an original Ansel Adams photograph, paying a photographer to take a photo of our daughter’s wedding, or having in our possession an old photo of our great, great uncle on a hunting trip with Teddy Roosevelt does not guarantee zero risk of a copyright infringement. Possession of a physical copy of a visual image does not carry with it the right to publish it, to make copies, to distribute copies, or to make derivatives (use a small section of it, cut some individual out it, or colorize it). US copyright law states that ownership of a photograph rests with the creator of the photograph, the photographer. That is why photocopy services like those at Kinko’s and Walmart are reluctant to allow copying of photos and post warning signs above the copy machines.
It is easy and therefore tempting to copy and paste a great photo we find on the Internet into our manuscript, our blog, or our Pinterest site. We should stop before doing so without asking for permission—stop and consider the risk to ourselves and the consequences to its photographer.
It is much easier these days for photographers to monitor use of their works. Tools such as Google Reverse Image Search and digital watermarking software make finding an infringement quick work for the savvy photographer (and there are getting to be more and more savvy photographers every day). If for no other reason, the strong possibility of a confrontation with a wronged photographer should make us think twice about copying someone else’s work without their permission.
Posting examples of their works on their own website does not indicate that the photographers are granting viewers the right to copy and post elsewhere. The argument that they all love the publicity and public awareness of their work such copying gives them loses credibility for anyone visiting chat groups or blogs (http://bit.ly/10eDu39) where photographers are venting their frustrations. Not all photographers wish to share their work without seeing some remuneration or, at least, without the ability to make a choice as to where it is viewed. Many are not happy at having their works devalued by the rampant postings of them on other websites.
When it is so easy to find a photo that works for many project themes on stock photo sites and public domain sites, why risk an infringement suit or, if not concerned about the danger of any legal action, why take part in hurting the careers of our good photographers? ( For a list of sites offering quality photos, you might refer to Copyright for Creatives: A Guide for Self Publishers and Their Support Team published by Integrated Writer Services, LLC and available at Amazon.com or on our website.)
Most photographers post contact information on their website, making a request for permission a no-brainer. Asking permission for a use before posting it takes little time or effort. A reluctance to do so may be a hint that a concern exists about the owner’s willingness to allow such a use.
With the use of photographs in our possession, sometimes a decision may be made to use them under a claim of fair use, but wisdom dictates that this decision be made only after an attempt to determine if anyone other than ourselves might successfully claim ownership and after an attempt to locate the party if such a one exists. The decision should be an informed one with the risks of an infringement claim weighed in the balance against the chances someone might notice and bring suit, the importance of the use to the project, and the ability to use a fair use defense.
So, the bottom line in using photographs is to determine not only ownership and the risks of an infringement suit, but also to determine the affect of our use on the photographers’ ability to benefit from the fruits of their labor.
(NOTE: The photo in the top left is a stock image purchased from Fotolia.com. The license cost $2.80 for this low resolution image.)
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