A photographer works hard and creates beautiful photos of a family. The mom is so thrilled with the photographer’s work, that she scans some of her prints and shares them on Facebook with her friends and family. The photographer is stuck, not wanting to alienate a valuable client by asking for photos to be removed, but also seeing a poor version of her work posted online.
She sends the mom a message asking that the photographs be removed from social media, as gently as possible saying that the package the family purchased did not include social media. The mom is angry and indignant. She paid for those photographs; she should get to post them anywhere she wants.
Some version of this has happened to many of us, or to someone we know. Your photographer took beautiful photos that captured the spirit of your family. You want to share her work with everyone, so you scan one and post it on Facebook. You don’t know that you’ve broken the law and stolen from her.
The visual internet is so powerful that most people repost or share without even thinking about ownership. When we have photos with our family in them, we think that we own the photos, not the photographer. It is only natural to want to share them with everyone!
Photographers own the copyright to the photos they take. This means that no matter who is in the photos, they own the right to reproduce them and reproduction includes all forms of social media. When they sell you prints they are not necessarily selling you the right to reprint and post those photos anywhere you want. If you did not purchase that right and you repost the photo, you are stealing from your photographer, just the same as if you stole a candy bar from a store.
Photographic copyright in the United States has been protected since the Copyright Act of 1976. It’s clear that photographers own their images from the moment of creation. Educating the public on photo copyright is an ongoing issue for those of us who make our living this way. We depend on reprints as a source of income: to pay our bills and feed our families.
So, you want to share your photos, but you do not want to steal, what can you do? Talk to your photographer! Many already have packages that include permission to post your images on social media if you leave the photographer’s logo or other copyright information. Before you take a quick photo with your iPhone and post an image on Instagram, ask; before you share something on Facebook, send your photographer an email and secure permission.
Photographers want their images to be seen and loved. Let’s work together to find a way to do that legally!
If you’d like to learn more about photographers and copyright, check out the sources below.
Understanding Photographic Copyright, Professional Photographers of America
Copyright Guide for Photographers, American Society of Media Photographers.