Making your mark, the first step…

A couple of weeks back, someone brought up the question of preventing someone else from taking your photos without permission, (copying the image off of the web).  One of the easiest ways to do this is by first, making sure the image is in the right format for screen resolution, 72-96 dpi and the size does not exceed standard monitor size, 800 dots or pixels along the bottom, no more than 600 dots (pixels)  tall.  More on that later.

Let’s get the legal garbage out of the way.  I am not a lawyer and what follows is not given as the final say in legal advice, but a set of guidelines to help you narrow down your understanding of how this stuff works.  If you are going to sell your work commercially or copyright your work, take the time to get a firm understanding of model releases, compensation and copyright.  There are lots of easy-to-understand books out there on the subject.  Last, but not least, to get the final say talk to an, ugh, lawyer to get the final say on copyright law in your area.

The rules for copyright are pretty straightforward, if you take the image, and have the human subject’s consent, and the image is not of someone else’s property, you then legally possess that image.  In the world of business photography, before you can sell an image to a stock photography company, you must have a model release.  If you can clearly make out a person’s identity in the photo, then you are going to need a model release.  Basically, this is just a written agreement that the photographer has the right to sell the image.  In the U.S., all that is required is that the model or person being photographed receive compensation for the image.  Compensation is loosely described as anything the person agrees to for the picture.  This compensation can be as little as a copy of the picture, a couple of dollars or the agreement to work for the model as an indentured servant for the next twenty years.  Okay, I made the last one up, but I think you get the point…

Now, we move on to location releases.  The U.S. has required photographers to get consent for architecture isage since since the 1970s.   So, if you take a picture for publication and you include that lighthouse in the background, you could owe some money to the lighthouse people on down the road without the proper location release.  The reasoning behind this is pretty straightforward, a building is considered art, you would like to be paid for someone commercially using your art/pictures, they would like to be paid for someone commercially using their art, (building design).

Last but not least, there is the subject of artwork, an image can be used as part of a picture, but cannot be directly reproduced in the image without the consent of the artist.  If the picture is of your Cousin Jethro picking the nose of the coffin in the King Tut exhibit, you’re probably going to end up in court.  If you take a picture of your cousin Jethro in an unidentified hallway with 5 or 6 pictures hanging on the wall and the pictures are not the central subject of the image, you’re probably going to be safe.  Rule #1:  Pay attention to the background and the details in your pictures.  Okay, now that we’ve gotten all of the ground rules straight, and you’ve done your homework, the image is yours to sell…

My next post will cover exactly how to apply your mark to an image.  I just had to lay a little groundwork first.  Once again, this does not constitute legal advice, but a general guideline to help you understand the framework for owning an image.  Courts change opinions from one county to the next, one state to the next and one country to the next so do your homework.

Speaking of getting the consent of your models, in a lot of locations around the world since 911 especially, people with cameras are being perceived as a security threat.  I can play devil’s advocate and understand both sides of the issue on this particular point.  And have had my share of arguments/discussions with law enforcement on this subject.  That’s the beauty of living in the United States of America, you can respectfully disagree with a law enforcement officer and make your case without fear of being beaten down and hauled off to rot in jail somewhere.  I might tell a story or two on that later…

A freind of mine recently travelled outside the US,  (to Juarez), which believe it or not is part of Mexico, which is a foreign country, (for the moment), and realized he was doing a bad thing when Mexican policemen started giving him very dirty looks for taking their pictures as he was driving by.  Fortunatle, dirty looks were the only reminder he received during his travels and he has a pretty good understanding of why that’s not a good idea.

Remember, government buildings, government officials performing their duties and essential infrastructure, (energy, financial or commercial) is probably going to mean you’re answering questions later.  Be smart and be safe.


Digital Photography Basics , , , , , , , ,


  1. I knew there were lots of rules about what could be published. Thanks for the info it will be helpfull as I start to implement more photos and images in my businesses.

  2. I’ve had my photos used by a lot of people without permission. What is the amount in damages that I can reasonably sue for?

    Tim Van Milligan, helping you Make Money Online, God’s Way!

    • Most of the photography literature I’ve encountered says leave the issue of just recompense to the people who know it best, lawyers and judges. “Photoshop User” Magazine, March 2010, has a great article in their “Copyright Zone” article (Ed Greenberg, Jack Reznicki) where Jack was offered $100 for reimbursement/repayment of unauthorized use of his image by a corporation for over ten years and requesting the rights for that image for the next ten years. Wow, a whole five dollars a year for that picture! Probably not the best deal to make, but the lawyers could probably make it work out much better. For some good writing and great reading, the copyright experts mentioned before have their own blog set up,

  3. Great info about how to protect your photos which are your property, and how to avoid taking pictures of other people’s property.

    Tim, I’m not a lawyer but I would think you should just come up with a canned cease and desist letter and ask them to remove the offending photo and confirm by a deadline or pay $X for the right to use the photo.

    It would cost you too much to sue to be worth it and the bar is set high to receive damages for most of us (unless you are talking about celebrity or major brand trademark issues).

    Seize the Day,

    Simple Family Survival Tips For Disasters and Emergencies

  4. That clears up a bunch for me when it comes to protecting my images and also if I can sell them. Thanks for all of the information.
    Scott Sylvan Bell
    Now go implement!

  5. What about pictures taken in a public park?
    Sonya Lenzo

    • Pictures in a public park are generally pretty safe. If a photo violates a person’s reasonable expectation to privacy, then you will have problems with the picture and the law. If you’re in public, and you can see it, it’s generally pretty safe to shoot it. If a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, (change rooms, locker rooms, etc.). If it’s a tourist attraction and nothing prohibits it, (park regulations, etc.), then you’re pretty safe. One of the best resources I’ve found is It’s pretty step-by-step on what is and isn’t allowed.

  6. It makes me scared to put photos in my book unless I take them. Even if I take the pictures, I still may not be safe. whine whine whine. How am I ever going to finish my book! Great information – Thanks!

    Lisa McLellan
    Babysitting Services, Nanny Services, and Nanny agencies

  7. Fantastic advice. I have shot ‘famous’ landmarks before, but it was only for personal keepsakes, but it is good to know if I ever wanted to sell any of these there will be come work involved! Look forward to learning how to mark/protect my photos!

    Direct Selling Advice, Leveraging Relationships for Long-term Profit

  8. Linda

    Thanks for the info! Guess that answers a lot of the questions I have about framing & selling,etc. Good article!

  9. Hi Dewayne,

    I always thought that if they simply right click to view an image they could save it, no?

    Happy Dating and Relationships,

    April Braswell
    Christian Dating Expert and Coach

  10. Great post Dewayne as you are thorough and cover every aspect of what we should be concerned about. Could you reccommend any specific books? I am interested in copywrighting laws, regulations, etc. and you have great valuable insight.
    Jen B
    The Harwood Group – Tinnitus, Chronic Illness, Fears, and Anxiety

    • Amazon has a pretty good one, “A Digital Photographer’s Guide to Model Releases: Making the Best Business Decisions With Your Photos of People, Places and Things”, by Dan Heller. It covers trademark, copyright, model releases, etc.

  11. Terrific advice & very informative coverage of the topic of copyrights.

    The Success Secrets

  12. Great post Dewayne as you are thorough and cover every aspect of what we should be concerned about. Could you reccommend any specific books? I am interested in copywrighting laws, regulations, etc. and you have great valuable insight.
    Jen B
    The Harwood Group – Tinnitus, Chronic Illness, Fears, and Anxiety

  13. Dewayne,

    Thanks so much for this post packed full of very useful information: I didn’t buildings were included…. Are there any “public domain” buildings, areas, etc.?

    Looking forward to your next post,
    How To Do YouTube Marketing

    • Buildings were included in the 70s when the courts considered architecture an artistic form of expression. (Not sure on the specific date). Most of the literature I’ve seen is that if you can identify a specific owner of property from the image, then a release form may be required.

  14. Intellectual Property law, which includes copyright, is quite complicated. When in doubt, seek legal advice. Many times a paralegal can answer your question without costing an arm and leg, although they aren’s licensed to “advise” they are still very knowledgeable and at least they can tell you whether it’s in your best interest to hire a lawyer.

    Peggy Larson
    Quilting – Colors and Fun!

  15. Lots of good and useful information in this article. I would of course consult an attorney if I felt I was crossing the line.


  16. I try to stay away from taking pictures around any Government facilities.

  17. But government facilities can be some of the best ones to photograph.