Copyright, a little reminder…

A few things have happened recently that made me think that I should mention basic copyright law:

  1. An online “friend” on Facebook is a very talented photographer and everything she does is highly conceptualized, she creates images, she doesn’t just “take” images (there’s a difference but that’s for another post). She’s had quite a few issues where she’s found other “photographers” and “artists” copying and duplicating her images almost exactly and posting them as their own. The same thing has happened to another Facebook friend who also puts an amazing amount of work into her images, so unfortunately it’s becoming a very common experience.
  2. A co-worker recently came to me to print an graphic for a one of their friends and I went to the link that they supplied and it was an image on a Flicker account. Naturally I asked if that was their friend’s account and the answer  was no, they just liked the picture and wanted to print a large mural for their house. I nicely refused to help at that point and suggested that their friend contact the photographer to buy or at least get permission to reproduce the image. My co-worker’s response was “well, if they didn’t want people to have it (the image) then why would they have it there to download”. I explained that it was there to view but not to take…,
  3. I’ve also noticed Designers and Creative Directors actually pulling images from anywhere on the web and using those same images in their company’s Creative Decks and Mock-ups to pass off to their clients or to the company executives for layout approval. Maybe, I’m getting old but this kind of threw me a bit when I noticed this happening.

The reason I find this a little disconcerting shouldn’t really need to be explained but just in case… here’s a little reminder: artists make art because they love to BUT they depend on the ability to sell their work to live and the examples listed above amount to stealing and keeping the creator from making any money. Note that I’m talking about Artists but this also refers to an Image produced commercially by a professional or studio too.

So, here’s a quick refresher course on Copyright:

  • Your work (photographs, paintings, literary works, recordings, sculptures, letters, movies or anything in tangible form) is automatically COPYRIGHTED AS IT’S CREATED. Got that? It means the moment you click the shutter, write the word on the paper or record a new piece of music then it’s copyrighted as your own (provided you don’t violate the next rule).
  • The copyright covers ORIGINAL works of art (not a derivative work) – you can NOT copy a painting, photograph or recording and think you can copyright it as your own. Lets say you’re  “inspired” by someone else’s work and create your own and it looks just like theirs (oh, maybe you changed the color of their clothes or you’ve changed mediums and created a painting from another’s photograph) then you’ve just violated copyright law and could  be taken to court by the original artist. Case in point, Shepard Fairey’s painting of the the photo of Obama (this was settled out of court) or “Rogers vs. Koons” regarding a sculpture made from Roger’s photo (Rogers, the photographer won the case).
  • Ideas can’t be copyrighted BUT the way the idea is expressed can be…, so the way you execute the idea to your artistic medium can be copyrighted.
  • There’s no need to register with with the Library of Congress to secure a Copyright BUT it helps should you have to go to court. In the past, you had to submit images of your work and pay a fee to actually be officially copyrighted but per the current law it’s no longer necessary.
  • Also it’s not necessary to add the Copyright symbol but you should (i.e: © 2013 Dale C. Frame). On a Mac: Press the “Option” and “G” key. On a PC: Press Ctrl + Alt + C.
  • You can google Copyright and learn more. I’m NOT a lawyer but here’s a lawyer’s overview of Copyright law:

Now to confuse things even more ALL of the above information refers to the original Copyright laws, now we have an additional process that’s being used called Creative Commons which offers various different options.

  • Allowing the ability to reuse but NOT Sell the creative work in question.
  • The ability to creative a derivative work as long as you give the original artist “credit” for producing the original (IMO, if you operate this way then you should find another line of work and not call yourself an artist).
  • Work for Sale, therefore you buy the rights – just as I mentioned above.

You can check out the Creative Commons here:

In my opinion, I’m not sure that the Creative Commons scenario helps or just gives people to right to continue to do as they’re doing and then just feel good about it. But then, if the artist is ok with it then…all is well. Just remember to check out the status of the work before you do anything with it.

So by using the above information as a guideline, how should you conduct yourself on the web and social sites?

  1. Don’t download or print other’s work. If you didn’t pay for it or at the very least ask permission to use it then it’s not yours (seems like I shouldn’t have to even point this out but…,)
  2. Even if you buy the image then you’ve brought only limited usage for that work of art. You can NOT make copies without the artist’s permission. Usage rights should be negotiated when buying the work.
  3. Don’t pull an image from Facebook, Flicker or a personal website and post it elsewhere on the web unless you get the owner’s permission (by owner, I mean the artist – this is the most common offense as most see no harm in it but you’re infringing on the artist’s rights). Ask to repost, at the very least give CREDIT to the artist and maybe direct your audience back to their website (this is what Pinterest tries to do).

In my opinion, all of the above seems pretty basic and just common courtesy  but most people may or may not realize that the artists are relying on the sale of their art to support them and most put a lot of effort and work into producing something that sets them apart from everyone else.



This entry was posted in Photography, Uncategorized.


  1. Phil Vaughn April 6, 2013 at 6:13 am #

    I appreciate your incisive article. Although I don’t claim to be a great photographer or, by any means, an artist, it is still a fact that what I (or anyone else) might produce belongs to me/them. Obviously, I’m a supporter of Copyright law.

    I have a friend who, without my permission, posted one of my photos on Pinterest. The friend did post a credit, but the fact remains that I was not asked about this first. I didn’t consider it flattering, and still don’t.

    Creative Commons is another situation. Some artists just want to see their work posted anywhere and by any means. Some of them don’t want to mess with copyright hassles and claims. Some may even be just saying, “Oh, my art? Meh…take it. It doesn’t matter.”

    Artists, writers, photographers, etc. should claim their work and their ideas. It is what gives us landmarks and stepping stone as we strive to grow in our work and artistic expression.

  2. innerframeimaging April 10, 2013 at 2:17 am #


    Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Regarding Pinterest, I can’t say I’m a fan yet…images that I’ve shot of my wife’s sculptures have been posted there but I haven’t noticed any benefit to it.

    Creative Commons is also something that don’t really see any benefit in, basically you’re allowing someone to take your idea and use it to produce another “work” of art. In my opinion, if you can’t come up with something on your own then don’t bother but that’s just my opinion.

    Again, thanks for checking out my blog.