What are the Rules When Editing Stock Photography?

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One of my students has another question.  At first I thought I had the answers, but then I realized that this one is actually more complicated than I thought it was.

I am interested in using stock photography for some business materials.  I am new to this whole online business thing, but have been socializing online since I was much younger.  I’ve been babysitting for over 3 years and have been making some good money at it.  I am going to college in the fall and want to continue with it.  I want to maybe even turn it into a regular job since I’ll be all grown up and stuff, maybe live with a family or work with several families 20 or 30 hours a week.

Anyway, I want some stylish marketing materials with my picture on them and some cool text and other things that I’ve already designed.  However, I’m confused about stock photography sites.  Some of the images are free, and then there are all this licenses and commons licenses too I think.  I have no idea what’s going on.  One time I thought if you paid for something that you could use it for whatever you wanted, but then I found out that sometimes  you can’t alter it even if you paid for it, or you can’t use it in certain materials.  I have my own vision for my little business and I want to put text over the images and manipulate them any way that I want to.  However, I  don’t want to steal someone’s hard work or break the licensing rules.  I believe in doing good things and good will come back to you.  Can someone here explain the whole stock photo thing in terms that make a little sense?

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Check out pictures on Flickr that have CC licenses. You can select from filters to get pictures that can be used for commercial purposes.

If you’re looking for something very, very specific, such as a graphic object or a picture that you cannot find anywhere, look for paid photos from stock image websites.

Good luck!

You’re right to wonder what might happen if you violate a copyright by altering another’s image. The answer to that question is nebulous though, and depends on what you intend to use the image for.

If you use a thumbnail-sized version of the image, put it inside another photo, or only use a tiny piece, and you make sure to link it back to the original website along with giving proper attribution to the author, your use of the image could be perfectly legal under ‘fair use’ laws. In order to cover yourself in legal situations, it is highly recommended that you get a written agreement from the copyright holder to use an image as you wish to do. However, if you are found to be infringing on a copyright, you are in legal trouble. The copyright holder can sue you to recoup the costs of the works if you did not pay for those properly, plus legal fees and any ‘damages’ they can prove were sustained to their reputation or career when the work was used without permission. The law further allows them to sue for a fine of two hundred dollars up to one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The infringer may get the copyrighted works seized and his business closed or website shut down, and if it is serious, say if there are thousands of stolen images, jail time could be involved.

Copyrights are owned on a particular piece of creative work. The copyright holder is originally the author or creator of the piece. In this instance, the photographer who took the photo, whether that photo is published or not, is therefore automatically the copyright holder and therefore entitled to profits from his/ her photograph. If you are the photographer, as in this instance, you automatically own the copyright and do not need to do anything to be the copyright holder. You can use the copyright symbol, known among copyright lawyers as the “circle-C”, along with the date the photograph was published (either in print or in a digital print online, on your hard drive, or on a disc) to show when your copyrights to the image were established. Most non-professional photographers do not need to do this; it only becomes a legal issue when you want to sell your photo creations. The copyright also entitles the holder to the ability to copy, share, and display the work.

If you are not the copyright holder, as is the case with most users of stock images from widely-known companies such as Getty Images, iStock, or ShutterStock, you will need to fulfill a license agreement with the holder of the copyright. Standard license agreements are made when you pay for a photo, meaning that you now hold the right to display the photo, as when photographers make framed prints of their work that people buy and display in their homes. The same applies when a business owner buys a stock photograph to use in an advertisement for a new product.

You’re right to wonder what might happen if you violate a copyright by altering another’s image. The answer to that question is nebulous though, and depends on what you intend to use the image for.

If you use a thumbnail-sized version of the image, put it inside another photo, or only use a tiny piece, and you make sure to link it back to the original website along with giving proper attribution to the author, your use of the image could be perfectly legal under ‘fair use’ laws. In order to cover yourself in legal situations, it is highly recommended that you get a written agreement from the copyright holder to use an image as you wish to do. However, if you are found to be infringing on a copyright, you are in legal trouble. The copyright holder can sue you to recoup the costs of the works if you did not pay for those properly, plus legal fees and any ‘damages’ they can prove were sustained to their reputation or career when the work was used without permission. The law further allows them to sue for a fine of two hundred dollars up to one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The infringer may get the copyrighted works seized and his business closed or website shut down, and if it is serious, say if there are thousands of stolen images, jail time could be involved.

Copyrights are owned on a particular piece of creative work. The copyright holder is originally the author or creator of the piece. In this instance, the photographer who took the photo, whether that photo is published or not, is therefore automatically the copyright holder and therefore entitled to profits from his/ her photograph. If you are the photographer, as in this instance, you automatically own the copyright and do not need to do anything to be the copyright holder. You can use the copyright symbol, known among copyright lawyers as the “circle-C”, along with the date the photograph was published (either in print or in a digital print online, on your hard drive, or on a disc) to show when your copyrights to the image were established. Most non-professional photographers do not need to do this; it only becomes a legal issue when you want to sell your photo creations. The copyright also entitles the holder to the ability to copy, share, and display the work.

If you are not the copyright holder, as is the case with most users of stock images from widely-known companies such as Getty Images, iStock, or ShutterStock, you will need to fulfill a license agreement with the holder of the copyright. Standard license agreements are made when you pay for a photo, meaning that you now hold the right to display the photo, as when photographers make framed prints of their work that people buy and display in their homes. The same applies when a business owner buys a stock photograph to use in an advertisement for a new product.

Free images, or images that cost money for that matter, often come with stipulations. For instance, both free and paid images almost always require you to cite the author’s name and the copyright date when you use them. Furthermore, free images are often priced as such because a photographer with a budding career wants to get her name publicized so that she can make money from her work in the future. Therefore, if you intend on altering the photograph and selling it, unless you get explicit permission to do so, you are violating the copyright agreement.

Think of it like a song: If a singer writes a song, and grants other singers the ability to sing his song on-stage at a concert for free so that he can gain publicity, the other singers still do not have the right to make a very similar song and sell it, nor do they have the right to use the first singer’s song mixed with their own creations and sell those. The only way you can ‘get away’ with altering a stock photo and selling it yourself is if the image you created no longer resembles the original in look and/or intent. In such circumstances, you are the copyright holder to the altered image, although if you have questions, you should seek legal advice before attempting to sell the work.

Registering a copyright with the U.S. Patent office is the best way to be able to take legal action against someone who infringes upon a copyright you hold, although registration is not required to make copyright infringement a crime. Buying the copyright, even if unregistered, is a legal procedure in which money is exchanged for the ability to use the photograph.

Oftentimes, use of images also requires royalty payments, meaning that if a person intends to sell the image themselves or use it in an advertisement to make money for his own company, they must pay the copyright holder for each use in an advertisement or for each sale they make from the photo. Important to the central questions, however, is that a copyright also entitles the copyright holder to the exclusive ability to create derivative works. This means that without proper permission, you will be infringing a copyright if you alter someone else’s work and sell it, even if the work was legally obtained in its original form.

Stock images, even if they are free, come with user agreements. This is because even free images are placed on image sites with restrictions from the artist on who or how the photographs are used. So what are the rules regarding editing stock photography? Can you use the edited stock photography for personal or business reasons? Can you then sell the edited versions directly, for your own profit? Turns out these are complicated questions.

Free images, or images that cost money for that matter, often come with stipulations. For instance, both free and paid images almost always require you to cite the author’s name and the copyright date when you use them. Furthermore, free images are often priced as such because a photographer with a budding career wants to get her name publicized so that she can make money from her work in the future. Therefore, if you intend on altering the photograph and selling it, unless you get explicit permission to do so, you are violating the copyright agreement.

Think of it like a song: If a singer writes a song, and grants other singers the ability to sing his song on-stage at a concert for free so that he can gain publicity, the other singers still do not have the right to make a very similar song and sell it, nor do they have the right to use the first singer’s song mixed with their own creations and sell those. The only way you can ‘get away’ with altering a stock photo and selling it yourself is if the image you created no longer resembles the original in look and/or intent. In such circumstances, you are the copyright holder to the altered image, although if you have questions, you should seek legal advice before attempting to sell the work.

Registering a copyright with the U.S. Patent office is the best way to be able to take legal action against someone who infringes upon a copyright you hold, although registration is not required to make copyright infringement a crime. Buying the copyright, even if unregistered, is a legal procedure in which money is exchanged for the ability to use the photograph.

Oftentimes, use of images also requires royalty payments, meaning that if a person intends to sell the image themselves or use it in an advertisement to make money for his own company, they must pay the copyright holder for each use in an advertisement or for each sale they make from the photo. Important to the central questions, however, is that a copyright also entitles the copyright holder to the exclusive ability to create derivative works. This means that without proper permission, you will be infringing a copyright if you alter someone else’s work and sell it, even if the work was legally obtained in its original form.

Stock images, even if they are free, come with user agreements. This is because even free images are placed on image sites with restrictions from the artist on who or how the photographs are used. So what are the rules regarding editing stock photography? Can you use the edited stock photography for personal or business reasons? Can you then sell the edited versions directly, for your own profit? Turns out these are complicated questions.