I wanted to take a moment to discuss a concept you’ll often heard thrown around… it’s called Fair Use. Now, before I go too deep a few caveats.

  1. I am not a lawyer.
  2. Laws vary country to country.
  3. If you have questions, see a lawyer you trust.

Okay, with that out of the way, I wanted to talk a bit about fair use. I’ve had several photographer friends try to justify to me that they can use copyrighted music in their slideshows. That it’s acceptable. Other times, the shoe is on the other foot… as those same photographers explain how their rights are being violated by websites.

Well… here’s a few things to think about. The fair use concept is essentially a doctrine which provides situations where copyrighted works can be used without paying. It places reasonable restrictions on:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.
  4. The effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

It is true that in a classroom situation you can use virtually any image you want for practice or class exercises. However, here is the problem: As soon as a student wants to start looking for a job and builds a portfolio, those images are being used for financial gain. If you are a student or emerging pro, you need to build work samples that help you get a job. Use images that you have the rights to (or that you have photographed).

Same holds true for music tracks. I just turned down a job applicant who had copyrighted music on his demo reel. He incorrectly thought that crediting the track was enough. Talk about a huge potential financial risk if I brought him into my company. There are lots of alternative strategies for music licensing that are fair and easy.

The other clause that is often seen as a loophole is number four. People often think that because their project was small or personal that damage cannot be claimed. It is relatively easy for a copyright holder to claim damages or lost revenue. Even though they may not go after you, why take the chance?

As a photographer, you should respect the law and the welfare of your fellow photographers, musicians, and designers. For more on copyright and fair use doctrine, visit www.copyright.gov, www.copyrightalliance.org or www.asmp.org/content/registration-counts.