No … Just because you bought a physical copy of an image does not mean that you can use it as you might want because, in legal terms, you are not the owner of the image copyright. And just to be clear, copyright of any artwork remains with its original creator for 70 years after the creator’s death; almost a generation.
While this post doesn’t go into minute legal detail, I hope the points outlined below will help when it comes to knowing what you can and cannot do with the images you purchase whether they are digital or physical. The legal aspect is complicated and changed quite significantly when the current Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA) came into force on 1 August 1989. This piece is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding the minefield that is image copyright.
Leaving aside digitally created graphics, copyright, in most circumstances, belongs to the originator – whether a photograph or artwork – and while copyright can be transferred, sold or have permitted use under licence, it’s important to understand the basics.
You purchase a print at an equestrian event and want to share it with friends via social media when you get home – that’s a no, no. The picture’s copyright belongs to the photographer who took it, not you the purchaser, so making a copy (by taking a snap on your mobile for instance) and putting up on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp or Snap Chat is an infringement of copyright. However, for a small additional fee, you can almost always purchase a digital image of the same photograph, which you can, in most circumstances use on your own social media feeds. And many photographers, if you ask them, may well be happy for you to share the print (given you’ve purchased it) and just request that you credit them for taking it.
Another no, no is browsing a photographer’s website, finding pictures you like, taking a screenshot and sharing them on your social media pages - with or without a watermark. The same applies for saving images a photographer has added to their social media pages, copying them and posting them on your own feed. While in some small way it’s flattering that you like them, the time and effort put in by a photographer in taking the pictures in the first place (and at an event there’s rarely payment for taking pictures even if a photographer is on site from 8.00am-6.00pm), editing and uploading them, makes it a soul-destroying task to effectively see their images stolen – call it shoplifting if you like.
What is quite acceptable is to share images of yourself and others that you see on the photographer’s Facebook or other social media platforms. You can also tag others along the way. For a photographer taking pictures at a public event, it’s unlikely they will know who was there, so if you see yourself or your friends in posted images, sharing them is helpful to both sides and avoids the issue of copyright infringement.
Want to go under the radar and hope you aren’t noticed? Loads of people do, on the basis that social media moves so fast, the photographer won’t spot it if you save an image and repost it somewhere else. Nowadays, photographers are very quick to spot their images and know only too well if they’ve been ‘illegally’ posted. This can be the watermark positioning, having a watermark visible at all or knowing the watermark has been cropped out to try and get around being spotted. The whole purpose of blasting a watermark across images is so it’s obvious they haven’t been purchased. Bought digital images won’t have a watermark on them (albeit they are not copyright free)
Using bought digital images for advertising is happening more a lot too, but when you buy an image it will be for personal use only. If you then want to use that image to sell your horse, the polite thing to do is contact the photographer and ask permission – they don’t bite and would rarely say ‘no’ if as it’s a one-off ad.
If, however, you want to use purchased images to advertise your business, then you need to have permission to use those images under licence. And for this you need to pay. How much you’ll to pay will depend on the use you have in mind for them, but make contacting the photographer a priority and not an after thought once you’ve posted them. You may think ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’. After all the photographer may not spot it. But if they don’t someone who knows them will.
You may be politely asked to remove the ad. Equally, you may receive an invoice for the image’s commercial use (which will be higher than if you’d asked originally). And if you don’t pay, the photographer is well within their right to go to the small claims court to recover the money. The result is bad for everyone, not least for you who will have a court judgement made against you, but also the photographer who will have had to spend many hours to get very little recompense.
The upshot of all these points is hopefully to educate, not alienate! I’d like to think that us merry band of photographers are here to help and build respect among those that like what we do.
Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions – firstname.lastname@example.org