October 14, 2011

More On Copyright Myths

Copyright Scott Bourne 2011 – All Rights Reserved

NOTE: This isn’t a white paper. It doesn’t detail every single fact you need to know about Copyright. It is just a blog post talking about some common myths. I am not an attorney and cannot give you legal advice. I am expressing my own opinion, based on advice received from my attorney. If in doubt, contact and consult with a licensed attorney in your area for more information.

Every once in a while I write a post about Copyright – to predictable results. The young folk send me 3000 word missives about corporate greed, the misinformed quote some guy who knew a girl, who’s dad once dated a legal student and he says I am wrong – and then of course there are the death threats. Sigh – but I feel compelled to try to help despite all that –  so today, I’m going to try to dispel the two greatest Copyright myths I know of.

1. It’s okay to use someone else’s photo as long as you give them credit.

Two words for you – ready?


It has no bearing whatsoever on infringement. It might have some bearing on damages, meaning a judge would probably avoid affixing treble damages to someone found guilty of infringement but who did give credit – that shows it wasn’t willful. But merely using my photo without the photographer’s permission and crediting them doesn’t eliminate the protections provided by the U.S. Copyright Act.

2. There was no commercial gain.

Two more words for you – ready?


Again – while it might help in the damages phase of a Copyright Infringement trial, the fact that you published someone else’s photograph without their permission is a violation – commercial gain or not. It is NOT a factor. Look it up. Title 17 of the United States Code.

The bottom line is this. If you want to use another person’s photograph, you need their permission. It is the law, like it or not. Don’t like it? Change it. But for now – that’s how it is. But beyond the law – it’s just common decency, common courtesy and common sense to ask first. Almost any time I’ve been asked by someone who wants to use my images I agree. Almost all the photographers I know do the same. It’s easy to find just about anyone these days thanks to the Internet. So find the owner of the photograph and ask. Almost every time they will say yes. And if they don’t, move on and find another image. You have no “right” to use another person’s image unless your use falls under one of the four exemptions to the Copyright Act. Based on my experience, most people’s intended use does not fall under one of those exemptions.

Back to these myths – You can come up with excuses like – “I gave him credit” or “I didn’t make any money off it” but those are just excuses.

If you are a photographer in the U.S. you are entitled to Copyright protection under the law. Know your rights and don’t let people push you around. Consult with a licensed attorney if you have serious questions about this.

For a great deal of valuable, accurate and mostly free information on Copyright for photographers I highly recommend you visit the American Society of Media Photographers’ website.  They have a bunch of resources there for your enjoyment.

If you want additional help protecting your images or collecting damages from those who have infringed you, check out https://www.imagerights.com/.


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