Consequences of Publishing Photographs

My article on Who Owns the Copyrights to Your Photographs? has generated some interesting discussion.

footnoteMaven wrote a thoughtful article on sharing a family photograph by publishing it on the web, discussing her investigation and analysis of the copyright status of a photograph she would like to publish. The Maven doesn’t know who the photographer was, whether the photograph is protected by copyright, or who might currently own the copyright.

After considering the question from many angles, footnoteMaven came to a decision on whether or not to publish the photograph. I’ll have to make similar decisions on whether or not to publish the photographs I own.

If a photograph is clearly in the public domain, the decision is a relatively easy one as long as the privacy rights of living individuals in the photograph and the rights of those who own a copyright to anything depicted in the photograph are respected.

If a photograph is not in the public domain and the photographers and copyright owners are known, it’s wise to ask permission to publish the photograph. In the case of photos taken by someone you know, it’s likely that permission will be granted.

Even after making a good faith effort to learn whether or not a photograph is protected by copyright and, if protected, to learn who owns that copyright, many of us will conclude that we are uncertain about the answer to either of these questions.

So, what are the consequences of unknowingly publishing a copyright-protected photograph without permission?

If the copyright violation occurs on the web, the copyright owner might just ask that the photograph be either properly credited or removed from the website. The owner might even request royalties for the right to use the photograph. Unless the photograph is registered with the United States Copyright Office, the copyright owner is not entitled to file suit to enforce the copyright, although the owner could still register the copyright after discovering a case of infringement.

There’s a lively series of comments on using copyrighted material on the web following Daniel J. Solove’s article on What If Copyright Law Were Strongly Enforced in the Blogosphere? Both Daniel and the people who left comments on his blog thought those most concerned about publishing copyrighted photographs without permission are those in the photography business. Still, we probably don’t want to anger our friends and relatives by publishing their photographs without their knowledge.

A good guideline to use when publishing someone else’s photographs is to consider how you would feel if you discovered that someone else had published your work without permission.

And now, I think I’ll take the advice of Randy Seaver and evaluate the photographs I’ve posted in the past to determine if any of them present a possible copyright dilemma!

Copyright © 2007 Stephen J. Danko

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2 Responses to Consequences of Publishing Photographs

  1. If only “clearly in the public domain” applied to all my family photograhs I wouldn’t have such a headache.


  2. LOL! I think I can count on one hand the number of my family photographs that are clearly in the public domain.

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