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?”
By Andrew Hudson Published: June 7, 2011 Updated: November 26, 2013
While you can legally take a photo, it can be illegal to publish that photo. This mainly involves copyright and people.
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.
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.
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 require a model release signed by that minor’s parent or legal guardian. This includes family snapshots or other portraits.
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.
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).