Can I Sell This Photo?


DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. I AM NOT A LAWYER. DO NOT DEPEND ON THIS.

“I have a great photo of (something). Can I submit it to a stock photo agency?”
"Can I publish this photo?”
"What can I publish?”

While you can legally take a photo, it can be illegal to publish that photo. This mainly involves copyright and people.

Copyright

It’s Your Photo

You must own the copyright to your photo. Did you take the photo, for yourself? If so, you’re OK.

If someone else took the photo, then you don’t own the copyright and you can’t sell the image. This includes pictures that you asked someone to take for you, and pictures you found in the public domain. Also, the photo should not be a result of “work-for-hire.” If someone paid you take a photo, they may claim that the agreement transferred the copyright to them.

Artwork

Does your photo include artwork? Pictures that feature recognizable artistic things such as paintings, murals, photos, logos, sculptures, advertisements and cartoon characters have an underlying copyright. Since artwork is copyrighted material, you would need a written release from the copyright owner to sell the image for commercial purposes. Editorial and other fair use purposes may be OK, and sometimes you can submit a photo for editorial purposes only. But stock agencies don’t want to be limited by a photo’s application.

Learn more.

People

Model Releases

Stock agencies and photo buyers often like people in a photo. But for any identifiable person in your picture, You’ll need a signed model release. Some agencies only accept releases, not faxed, mailed or hard copy releases.

Children

Children require a model release signed by that minor’s parent or legal guardian. This includes family snapshots or other portraits.

Nudity

Some agencies don’t accept sexual images or anything involving nudity (including keywords such as “sexy” or “nude”). If they do, models must look at least 25 years of age and a photo ID of the model must accompany the image.

Offensive

A stock agency would generally reject an image that could offend a reasonable person. For example, subjects or depictions that are abusive, degrading, defamatory, hateful, illegal, obscene, slanderous, threatening, or vulgar.

Celebrities and Sports Teams

Famous people can prevent commercial usage of their image with the “Right of Publicity.” Sports teams, associations and events generally don’t permit unauthorized commercial usage of their players, stadiums, sponsors and events. They can use trademark law (for logos and names) and invasion of privacy (if people paid admission to get in).

Learn more.

Comments

Comments


Reply by Jame Obermyer

April 3, 2017

Hello,

I’ve been asked to take some senior pictures on a public university campus. I was planning on selling the photos to those whom I take pictures of but not using them in any other commercial way. Would it be legal for me to do this or would I need a permit/property release from the university to do this?


Reply by Craig Sabo

March 19, 2017

Can I take pictures of cars at local and national car shows or other events and sell them to car magazines without the owner’s permission or do I need some sort of release? I would appreciate your opinion. Thank you.


Reply by Anonymous

November 21, 2016

I have a photo of a Glock among some other items, the only recognizable logo is the Glock logo on the upper receiver and handle. Can I sell this photo or should I shoot it again?


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 17, 2017

Yes, you can sell the photo, although shooting it again without the logo would make the photo easier to sell.

Logos are protected by trademark and copyright. Since you are not implying that you are the manufacturer (source) of the item, then you are likely not infringing trademark. Since the photo is of the item not the logo, then you are likely not infringing copyright. So you are likely free to sell (license) the photo directly.

However, if you try to sell (license) the photo indirectly through a microstock agency, the photo may get rejected as agencies generally avoid photos with logos. So a re-shoot without the logo would help you there.


Reply by Anonymous

November 5, 2016

I take artistic architectural shots and then work the photos extensively in post. Nonetheless, the shots are recognizable as highly stylized public icons. I’ve used these as my own wall art of poster size and larger. Can I sell these privately?


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

November 15, 2016

If you take a photo of a building from a public place, then you can generally sell that photo.

A landmark case on this subject is known as Rock and Roll Hall of Fame v. Gentile, 1998, where the photographer was able to sell photos of a famous building. Also see buildings to avoid.


Reply by Ahmed

August 25, 2016

Hello Andrew,

I have taken pics of my children and family. I also have some pics from my own garden, can I sell them without release?

Thank you


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

September 2, 2016

Yes for pics of your garden. Yes for pics of your children, if the other parent agrees. Yes for pics of a family member, if that person agrees.

If you “sell” (license) the pics through an agency, that company will want signed releases for images involving people. You can sign the release for your children. For the family, you will need signed releases from each adult, and from each parent of a child.


Reply by Ashleigh

May 16, 2016

I’ve taken photos for a school yearbook, and if the photos were to be used for personal use, I would like them to pay for it. Is this legal if I ask them to pay for it or is it against the law?


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

June 7, 2016

Yes, it is legal to ask for payment. Since you took the photos, you own the copyright, so you can choose the terms for copying/printing the photos.


Reply by Anonymous

July 31, 2015

Andrew,

Can I photograph an outdoor sculpture that is in a public space and sell the images on greeting cards?

Thanks for your help.


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 13, 2016

This depends.

If the sculpture is old (75+ years), it probably does not have copyright protection so you can proceed.

If the sculpture is new, it probably does have copyright protection. You should try contacting the artist to get a property release.

“Any artwork — main focus or not — for which you are not the artist (creator) cannot appear in an image at iStock unless a property release from the artist (not the current owner) is included. Artwork located on public properties are not exempt from this rule.”

— iStockphoto

For more info, see artwork.


Reply by Anonymous

March 2, 2015

I was thinking of making a walking map of my historic neighborhood. Was going to take photos of various historic houses. Then I would “water colorize” them and implant on my map with historic info tidbit. Is this legal? Would it be sellable?


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

March 6, 2015

Hi,

Yes, I believe this is legal and sellable.

In the U.S., you may photograph public things that you see from a public viewpoint. This would include historic houses. With photos that you take, you can do whatever you like, including “water” and sell as part of a map.

I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. For specific information, contact a local lawyer.

Andrew


Reply by Babina

January 14, 2015

I’ve taken multiple pictures at a fundraiser last year and most of them aren’t of people but of airplanes. Knowing that the planes do not belong to me, if I were to sell those pictures (on a printed canvas or greeting cards) would there be any consequences? Is there any law about selling a picture of a house with an address or a car with a license plate? If so, I would imagine that they would apply the same way to an airplane with the numbers and letters visible on the sides of the aircraft.


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 27, 2015

Hi Babina,

Good question. One approach would be to digitally remove or obscure the identifying information. Then you’d probably be safe, since the aircraft pictured would be generic, and not identifiable personal property.

This comes under property rights, which is a state (or local) issue. In the U.S., as long as you are not revealing private information (unlikely since the aircraft were likely in public view), or creating a nuisance or trespassing or being unsafe, or implying a business endorsement, then you are probably OK.

Avoid including logos and other artwork, which can be protected by copyright and/or trademark.

For specific advice, contact a local attorney.

Andrew


Reply by Britt

April 26, 2014

Hi Andrew,

I host my own public events and I hire photographer each time to take pictures of my acts and models. I would like to start selling prints online under my brands name. Who owns the copyright considering that I payed my photographer an it is my event? Also If I am planing to sell images what is my responsibility towards models?

Thanks you very much,

Best,

Britt


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

October 8, 2014

Hi Britt,

Great question. You have correctly identified both legal issues: copyright and publicity rights.

The photographer owns the copyright, unless the arrangement is legally “work made for hire.” You don’t want to get into a misunderstanding with your photographer about this, so get them to sign a statement confirming that you will own the copyright. E.g. “Photographer hereby assigns any and all copyrights in all the photos of and related to this event to (you).” This could be a term in your hiring contract. Consult a local lawyer for details.

Similarly, the model owns publicity rights in his/her image, if such rights exist in your state. Get your models to sign a model release. This could be a short sentence on a small card, stating that they agree that you can use their image in any way connected to your business/event. You can find sample model releases online.

Hopefully you already have a lawyer involved, as events have other issues, such as liability.

Best wishes,

Andrew


Reply by Goober G

March 11, 2013

I’ve attended a sporting event as media recently and have pictures of the event. I have mainly used it to promote the sport. I have the pics up in a website and has an option to print the pics but I can turn it off. I’m not sure i have the rights to sell it. Thoughts?


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

March 12, 2013

SPORTING EVENT PHOTOS

Hi Goober,

I believe that you have the right unless you agree otherwise. Major sports leagues actively protect the use of their logos, uniform designs, and players’ publicity rights. Often the back of a ticket says "no commercial photography" and by entering the property you thereby agree not to sell photos. If you attended on a media pass, there is probably some written terms for the media pass that likely include photography. But if the sporting event does not have any of those agreements with you then you might be OK. Consult a lawyer for specific advice.

For more information, see entrance fees and events.

Andrew


Reply by Hasib

February 12, 2013

can a sell my modleling photos


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

March 5, 2013

CAN I SELL MY MODELING PHOTOS?

Hi Hasib:

If you are the model, you need to get written permission from the photographer to sell the photos. The photographer owns the copyright.

Andrew


Reply by Matt

January 11, 2013

Is it legal to sell photos of a church interior? We found photos of our church online being sold by a photographer, just curious if this is considered legal? It is of the high altar in the main building of the church.


Reply by Steven

December 14, 2012

You say: This includes pictures that you asked someone to take for you, and pictures you found in the public domain.

Question: Does a photo that is officially in the public domain in effect have zero copyright?

Thanks.


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

January 5, 2013

OFFICIALLY IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN

Hi Steven,

The simple answer is yes.

The long answer is that there is no such thing as "officially" in the public domain, since no agency tracks this. The "public domain" is an absence of copyright. If a photo has "zero copyright" (i.e. it is not protected by copyright, thus it is not in the private domain), then anyone can use it, which is pretty much the definition of "in the public domain."

Best wishes,

Andrew


Reply by Backpacking Diplomacy

November 15, 2012

Hey, thanks for the post! I am curious about using photos of a stadium. I read what you said about sports teams and what not, but what are your thoughts (I know you aren’t a lawyer) on using pictures a few pictures on a blog for an article. I am not selling the pictures or defaming the organization in any way.


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

December 3, 2012

STADIUM PICTURES ON A BLOG

Hi Backpacking Diplomacy,

You could be OK if you are showing a photo that you took of the exterior of a stadium, taken from a public viewpoint, displayed in a factual/acurate manner, in an editorial not-for-profit blog.

Using photos that someone else took is a copyright issue; Interiors and private viewpoints bring you to issues of property rights; and commercial use can upset property owners.

Best wishes,

Andrew


Reply by Christine Leeds

October 10, 2012

A relative gave us a set of photos and we included it in a family photoposter. I received a request to remove her photos however I have already completed the poster. Can she sue me if I don’t ask the family to destroy the poster?


Reply by Andrew Hudson, PhotoSecrets

October 26, 2012

FAMILY PHOTOPOSTER

Hi Christine:

Good question. I need to add an article about private usage. Generally, an author cannot successfully sue for private use. This is often due to the de minimis and/or fair use limitations of copyright law, particularly when the use does not affect the potential market for the photo.

I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.

Best wishes,

Andrew


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