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  • Rob Bayes

What can/can't I do with a photo I've bought from a photographer?

Well, the simple (and not so simple!) answer is that it depends. But on what? There are two main things to consider when asking the question - the photographers terms and conditions, (including terms of sale, any licensing requirements and permitted usage agreements) and general UK Copyright Law.

I've seen and been involved in a fair few online debates, some quite heated recently, that have contained a lot of incorrect information and assumptions as well as a lot of comments that could both confuse people and also put them at risk of falling foul of photographers business policies and copyright infringement law. Which doesn't help either the photographers trying to their job or those looking to use images they've bought from them for various different purposes without finding themselves in an awkward and potentially expensive situation should things go wrong.

So here's a few pointers. Remember - every photographer will have their own specific terms and conditions, price structure and approaches to how they deal with things when they 'go wrong' (i.e. photos are used in a manner not agreed/permitted) - so if you're ever in doubt check with whoever you've purchased a photo from as only they will be able to give you a definitive answer!


You've bought a print. That's it. Just the print. Not the right or permission to reproduce it in any way by taking a photo of it with a phone/camera, scanning it electronically onto a computer or taking it elsewhere to get it copied. Some (not all) photographers may provide a free digital copy of a print when purchased for you to use on social media. It's quite common practice these days as it removes the need for a 'home made' copy to be taken for online use and lets face it - a proper photographer supplied digital image will always look better online than a phone shot. Whilst photographers are probably less likely to chase you if you do choose to copy it for online use than if you'd helped yourself to a watermarked web gallery image they're still within their rights to request removal of any they see and you're still technically breaching copyright law.


So you've bought a digital copy, whether that's one sold for social media use or a full high resolution digital image. Here's where it's important to know the specific terms of sale! Many photographers sell social media digital images that will generally be lower resolution (to prevent/dissuade attempts to print) and that may often be watermarked with their logo/company name. These are a great, cost effective way to show off your photo on social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. But there are a few key things to remember. Whilst a digital file can be reused and uploaded to more than one platform (unlike a printed copy) you've still bought the image in its current form. You can't adjust it, re-edit it (including asking a third party to make changes to it), remove any watermark or logo or use it for any commercial purposes without the permission of the copyright holder - the photographer who took the original photo. The same is true for high resolution images. These are often sold on the basis that you can print them yourself (or use a third party to do it for you) in addition to using online, but again the rules on making any changes and using for commercial purposes apply. If in doubt - always ask the photographer!


Photos will always be sold with terms and conditions on how they can be used. Whether they're taken at sporting events, private shoots, weddings, parties or through a booking for a specific purpose, for example product/promotional shoots for businesses, corporate events or where a photographer is engaged in a PR role. These should be made clear either on a photographers website or in the case of a pre-booked event any initial discussion or contract if one is required. Again, if you're ever in doubt - ask your photographer!

From an event photography point of view if you're buying a photo as a competitor it's generally on the basis of personal use. A print to hang on a wall, a digital copy to post on your social media to celebrate a performance or write a report on an event, or to share with family and friends. But what if you want to share with anyone else? An owner, a sponsor, a company whose products you use, or a specific 'group' or 'page' on social media. Or you want to use your photo in an online competition to win a prize where a submission is required? Here's where things can get a little confusing and it's possible to fall foul of both photographers T's & C's and the law. Some of the following comments are my personal view on things, but are based on the way I operate personally and knowledge of copyright law. Again, if you're ever in doubt - ask your photographer!

If the people you're sharing an image with or the group or page you're posting on won't be using it for either advertising purposes or commercial gain then you should be fine in doing so. Facebook in particular is rife with 'lets see your 'xyz' breed of horse/dog' posts and popping up a photo of your animal won't upset a photographer. Likewise a proud owner or sponsor sharing your post will generally be ok - the key here is 'sharing your post'. Not taking the photo and using it themselves in a new post, blog, promotional article or advert. You bought the photo not them - and any usage agreement is between you and the photographer, not any third party. Posts to competitions are generally fine too, especially if it's to win a small token prize and the photo submission is just part of the process. If the competition states that any photo submitted will be used for subsequent advertising either online or in print, will be used as a design template or brand logo, will be used as any part of a campaign or will be featured on a website or social media page - then this will almost certainly be viewed as commercial use of that photo. In cases such as these you need the consent and permission of the photographer who took the image as they are the copyright owner to that photo. Not the person that bought it. Competitions run with requests for people to upload images are a great marketing tool for any business - they cost nothing, reach a wide audience, encourage engagement and participation by often passionate people who like to show off their photos and cost nothing. Why wouldn't a business use them? But whether you're an entrant to a competition or a business owner running one - always make sure you aren't putting yourself at risk of copyright infringement action. It can be an expensive mistake to make!

If you're a business or a sponsor looking to use an image of a competitor for commercial purposes (e.g. an advert whether print or online, an image on a website or social media page) then the fact that someone has bought one at an event for personal use does not mean that it can be used for commercial purposes. It's most likely been sold on personal terms and any unauthorised business use can result in an unexpected bill from a photographer and potential court action. The general rule is to contact the business first, before using an image, to seek permission and find out any costs involved. You can then make an informed decision as to whether any fee is worth paying depending on the planned usage or whether you need to source alternative images. It's much easier to get permission and negotiate on cost before using a photo than getting found using one without the required consent. Commercial usage fees will always be higher than those for personal use - and why not? Buying a photo to proudly display on your lounge wall generates no income for someone. Using a photo in an advert, promotion or to raise awareness of a business, product or service, or to generate sales activity is what using photos in a commercial manner is all about - generating additional income. Therefore a higher usage fee should be expected.

Hopefully that's helped answer some questions some of you may have had. As stated earlier, some of the comments are based on the way I do business - not the way every photographer does. But the laws on copyright aren't up for debate. It's always better to check if you're unsure and before you do anything with a photo you've bought. If you're ever in doubt - ask your photographer!

Thanks, Rob

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