By Andrew Hudson Published: May 25, 2011 Updated: March 24, 2016
Taking photos is fun. What isn’t fun is getting sued or arrested. To avoid that, it’s worth knowing the legal rights and wrongs of photography.
There are many laws which affect photographers. They sometimes overlap and conflict, and they often confuse. But essentially they’re all about one thing: property theft. Is your photograph, or your use of a photo, stealing something of value from somebody else? If you’re confident that everything in the photo, and the way you’re displaying the photo, is not going to upset anyone in particular, then you’re probably OK. But if there’s someone who could feel offended or robbed, then it’s wise to know where the law puts you.
Property, of course, usually means money. There’s a big line when it comes to making money, or more accurately in legal terms, “commercial use.” In many instances, it’s legal to take and use a photo in some ways (such as for private use, descriptive or factual use, “editorial use", or “fair use” that is in the the public interest), but it is illegal to use that same photo for a predominantly commercial purpose. Similarly, the more people that see your work, and the more money that is involved, the more likely someone is to sue you. So the exact commercial and public use of a photo is important.
Photographers often feel threatened by the law but we shouldn’t be, since it’s on our side. The law — primarily copyright law — is the main thing that allows us to support our hobby. The law protects artists, preventing other people from using our artistic work without consent (e.g. payment). Photography, and other creative industries, couldn’t exist without defined and enforced artistic laws. So “hooray” for the law. We love you, law; let’s learn about you.
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