a guide to understanding copyright {complete with baby animals}

This post is a doozy. So I've gone ahead and inserted GIFs of baby animals to take the edge off.

This sloth is in this for the GIFs.

This sloth is in this for the GIFs.

There is a lot of defensiveness and confusion around this subject. I know a thing or two about copyright after spending a few years chasing copyright infringement and sending cease and desists. It's easy to confuse what rights you do and do not have when it comes to working with a photographer, and it's even easier to do something you can get sued for, so it's important to get a handle on understanding it.

So let’s get into it, shall we?


What does copyright mean?

Copyright means the legal right to reproduce, share, sell, print, display, alter or publish a work (which could be anything from a movie to a photograph, a piece of writing, music or any other form of art). The copyright holder is in control of where the work is used. This person can also authorize others to do the same.

Who owns the copyright?

In most circumstances copyright belongs to the creator. There are exceptions to every rule, but for the purposes of this post and to avoid confusion, it's safe to assume that the copyright holder is the person who made the work (ie the photographer)

This polar bear mom has copyright over her baby polar bear because she made him.

This polar bear mom has copyright over her baby polar bear because she made him.

why don't I get the copyright if it's a photo of me?

Model releases are signed often with any photo session. This releases the photographer from needing your permission every time they use a photo featuring you. 

i don't want pictures from my session being posted willy nilly without my consent. can I have the copyright?

Probably not without a hefty fee attached to it. Releasing copyright means releasing all rights to the image. That includes any money we can make off of prints, any revenue from future advertising or promotional work, any control over how our image is altered (after the hours of time we spend editing), etc. The list of reasons photographers don't like to release copyright goes on.

Talk to your photographer if you have concerns on how they will use the images from your session. Ultimately, we want you to be comfortable, and most of the time we are willing to work with you when it comes to how the image is shared.



sorry, I am not comfortable with signing a model release. What do I do? 

It’s safe to say you should never sign a contract you aren’t 100% comfortable with. If you can’t come to an agreement with the photographer, you should probably find someone else to work with. 

Or, set up a tripod or selfie stick and take your own photo and do whatever the heck you want with it. Problem solved. 

I only have low res, watermarked images. Can I print those?

Sure. Most of the time these are images meant for sharing online. Low-resolution means low-quality, so be prepared for pixelated prints. If you want to guarantee a beautiful, unwatermarked print, go through your photographer.

Look! It's Jon Hamm and a cute cub.

Look! It's Jon Hamm and a cute cub.

I want to share these online, can I remove the watermark?

No. Watermarks are used for this reason: to guarantee photo credit and prevent pirating of photos from third parties (like, if Buzzfeed were to pick up on it and make it viral). Only post what is given to you by the photographer, and for the love of God don't put a filter on it.

but my friend is really good at photoshop. Can I ask someone else to edit it for me?

Please don’t do this. If you aren’t happy with an edit, talk to the photographer. You paid them to edit the photo, and all that extra $$ is worthless the second you or someone else (even an app) slaps another edit on top of it. 

An instagram filter is like someone drawing a mustache on a perfectly good photo.

ok, sometimes mustaches make things better. touche, cat.

ok, sometimes mustaches make things better. touche, cat.

What if i find a photo on Google? Can I use that photo?

Probably not. In general, if you are not the copyright holder it's safe to assume you do not have permission to publish, print, or share the image/work.  But you can do an image search to specifically find fair use.

To access this hack, go to the "Advanced Search Settings" in Google's image search and select the specific usage you need. Voila.

Screen Shot 2017-12-19 at 12.05.02 PM.png

Also, you can check out Creative Commons for totally legal-to-use material.

wait... how come you can use GIFs in this blog post? 

Fair use.

Stay with me here.

Stay with me here.

what? explain this to me like I'm five.

Copyright means you are in control of how the work is used/shared.

A license is written permission to use an image/work for something specific. For example: a music license is given for use of one song in a single video, a commercial license is given for use of a work in advertisement. Usually you need separate licenses for different uses.

Personal use usually only covers posting on your personal social media. This is not the same as a print release.

A print release means you are given a print file you are able to print from. This file may not be larger than a certain size. A print release does not give you permission to give that file to anyone else without permission from the copyright holder.

A model release is signed if you are in the image. It means you accept the terms of usage and accept that you are not the copyright holder of the image. You release the right to control what happens to that image/work.

Fair use is when the original material is used for a limited and "transformative" purpose, such as commentary, criticism or parody.

This GIF is fair use, muthafuckaaaa

This GIF is fair use, muthafuckaaaa

OK, I think I understand copyright now, but can you list the copywrongs?

- editing an image without permission from the photographer (e.g. Instagram filters, removing watermark, any sort of app filter or manipulation)

- Removing a watermark 

- Printing images without a print release 

- Using or giving away photos or files for any purpose without permission from the copyright holder

- submitting photos for publication without permission from the photographer

-doing pretty much anything without the written consent of the photographer/creator

Sum this all up for me in one sentence.

When in doubt, reference your contract terms or ask the person who made the image/work.



You made it! I hope this was helpful.

If you have other questions, let me know in the comments!