With the invention of the internet, and digital photography, the world of photography has changed. Drastically.
Whenever someone takes a photo, that photo is immediately protected under US Copyright Law. Under the Federal Copyright Act of 1976, photographs are protected by copyright from the moment the shutter closes.
Just because it’s in the public domain doesn’t mean it’s yours to use freely, reproduce, enter into contests, send to magazines for use, redistribute, or edit. Purchasing a print doesn’t allow you the aforementioned rights either.
So, here are a few things to ask yourself next time you want to know if you may use a photo you found on the internet.
1. Did you take the photo?
2. If you answered no above, then ask this: Do I have permission to use this photo?
3. Is my permission in writing?
4. If three is yes, then is it limited to a one-time use, or can you use it repeatedly?
5. Did the photographer give you rights? Note: Most photographers don’t give rights to their photos. And if they do, they’re often limited to one-time use- such as for editorial content for a wedding magazine, for a beauty competition, or one-time reproduction.
I’m not saying that photos aren’t meant to be shared: on the contrary, sharing a watermarked version of the photographer’s photo from their Facebook page, Google+ page, Twitter account or what have you, is always a good way for the photographer to gain exposure. However, stealing a photo by right-clicking it, saving/downloading it your computer, printing it or reproducing it costs that photographer money, as photographers don’t make their money with a sitting fee, or by taking a photo of a landscape – their money is made when they sell prints to families, or prints of that gorgeous sunset.
The next time you want to share that gorgeous photo, please keep the following thoughts in mind, and realize that good photographs aren’t accidents; people have studied and perfected their craft to capture the beauty that is in all of us; the beauty that is all around us and they’d sure like your respect and understanding of their craft.
PS. For those of you wondering, yes, I’ve had photos stolen. And no, it’s not cool when someone claims your work as their own.