If you find an image you wish to reproduce or use, it can only be reprinted with permission—unless you want to face a potential copyright infringement lawsuit. In the course of doing business, this is usually obvious. However, it is often overlooked when talking about photos that include friends and family.
Old family photos, wedding photos, and school pictures all are protected by copyright. If you did not take the photo, you are not the copyright owner. If you want to reproduce, republish, or reprint the image, you must seek written permission. Happily, getting and giving permission to reproduce images is a straightforward process.
Getting Consent to Reproduce Images
The first step in obtaining consent to use an image is finding the owner of the picture. Most images either have a watermark in the corner, or a credit naming the photographer somewhere near the image. If you can't find either of these, you can always contact the publisher of the website, book, or magazine where you saw the image. If it is a personal photo—such as a wedding or family portrait—check your records for contact information. If it is a school photo, contact the school and ask for the name of the company they use for school photos.
The next step is to contact the photographer. You can either request that the photographer send you a permission to reproduce images form, or you can go online, fill one out, and submit it to them.
You should note that licensing fees are standard, and the amount charged will vary, based on how you will use the image. Commercial usage usually will garner a higher price. Once you have submitted the form and the fee to the copyright owner, wait until you have received express permission before you use the image.
Giving Permission to Reproduce Images
As the owner of an image, copyright law protects your work. If someone wants to use your image, they will need your permission. Whether or not you have registered the copyright for your image does not change this, but you won't be able to bring a copyright infringement lawsuit unless the image is registered.
As mentioned above, the permission to reproduce images form needs to be completed and signed by both parties. The form documents the terms of the agreement and is legally enforceable. Here is some critical information that should be included:
- The title/name of the image
- How the image will be used
- Where the image will be used
- Fee agreement information for the use of the image (fees usually vary based on the type of use, including commercial, personal, etc.)
- Outline of any limitations to the use of the image (both geographical and medium type)
This list is not exhaustive. For more detailed information, check out this step-by-step how-to guide.
Exceptions to Consent
Using someone else's work without permission isn't always considered copyright infringement. There is a limitation to copyright protection known as fair use. Fair use is an exception to copyright law that allows you to use someone else's work, or reprint an image, to comment on or criticize the work. Fair use also protects you if you use the work, or reproduce an image, for educational purposes.
If you don't think fair use applies to you, there is an alternative to requesting permission to use a copyrighted image—using an image that is not subject to copyright. Many public domain image websites offer access to free photos that don't come with the worry of possible copyright violations. Using these websites is free, but some have restrictions for use, so it is best to make sure you double-check what's allowed.
Whenever you want to use a photo that is not yours, the best way to avoid any hassle—and to ensure that you have legal protection—is to ask for permission first. Requesting and giving permission to reprint images is so easy that there really is no excuse for not doing so.