52 Fridays – #21 When Photographs Aren’t Free

52 Fridays is a year-long series for equestrian professionals and equine business owners and managers, with marketing and public relations information, ideas, tips, & resources shared here each Friday. New EMAIL blog subscribers receive a ’52 Fridays’ PDF when they sign up; existing subscribers and new RSS FEED & WORDPRESS subscribers can send a request for their own PDF here.

With the technology we have available today, it’s super-simple to copy, scan, or even lift images right off the Internet. The problem is, what might be thought of as a free photo really isn’t, and it’s due to one thing: copyright.

In the U.S., copyright law says that the creator of an artistic work owns that creation, whether it’s a song, a painting, a book, a movie, or a photograph. It’s a law recognized internationally, with some variations according to the individual country. Exceptions include work that is created either by an employee or a contractor (called ‘work for hire’), or if the creator grants usage rights to someone else in writing.

In the olden days, before technology became our friend and our taskmaster, photographers would provide a proof sheet, you’d select the images you wanted, and they’d give you actual prints. Easy and clear-cut. But things can get sticky online, where images can circle the globe with a few mouseclicks, and everyone’s eager to share things on their favorite social media outlet.

Nowadays, if you’ve paid a photographer a shoot fee, that’s just for them to come out and take photos; it doesn’t include any prints or usage rights – those cost extra. Even capturing an image from an online proof gallery to use on your Facebook page is a copyright violation, if you haven’t paid for that use and the photographer didn’t authorize it.

Why does that matter if it’s ‘just one photo?’ Here’s a little story told to me by a pro photographer a few years back:

When little Davey went to his first horse show, he posed on his pony for the show photographer. When the proofs went up at the photographer’s website, little Davey’s mom copied one of them (even though the website said not to), thinking ‘what could it hurt?’ She wanted to email it to his Aunt Mary, who thought it was SO cute she printed it out and showed it to all her neighbors. Sure, it was a little fuzzy and pixilated, but ‘what could it hurt?’ The photo went on Aunt Mary’s fridge, and little Davey’s mom never did get around to ordering a print from the photographer since, after all, they had the one she copied for free.

Six months later, Aunt Mary’s friend Sally was looking for a photographer to take pictures of her horses. She remembered the fuzzy picture of little Davey, and since Aunt Mary told everyone who the photographer was, Sally vowed not to hire that one, since she was sure to get fuzzy, pixilated photos!

That’s just one example of how a copyright violation can hurt a business, through harming its professional reputation. And, since a pro photographer has invested both time and money, in the form of education, experience, technology, and business overhead, using photos without authorization and without paying for them is like dipping directly into their bank account.

So how can you avoid violating someone’s copyright? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Ask about copyright and usage fees upfront: Discuss with any photographer you’re planning to hire what their policy is around usage and copyright, and the fees for each. It’s also good to ask about ‘personal’ and ‘commercial’ usage, and keep in mind that commercial usage costs more, since you’re using it to make money.
  • Understand the difference between a personal use, and a commercial one: If you’re using an image to make money (e.g., advertising your stallion for stud services, or including an image on your horsebiz website), then keep in mind the photographer needs to get a slice of that pie, and know when you’re crossing the line. For example, if you’ve had photos taken of your beloved hunter/jumper for your living room wall, that’s initially personal. If later that year you decide to sell and upgrade to a new horse and want to use the photographer’s image to advertise your mount, that’s crossed the line into commercial use; you’ll need to contact the photographer to get permission and find out if there are any additional fees involved.

Sometimes you can find images to use in marketing that would fall under what’s called Creative Commons:

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation. (from the Creative Commons website)

There are a bunch of variations in Creative Commons usage rights, from full copyright to none at all. Here’s a great cartoon that clearly explains the Creative Commons license options; be sure to click through all four pages.

When in doubt about copyright, it’s always good to ask. While the best things in life might be free, professional photographs usually aren’t.

Many thanks to pro photographers Sharon Fibelkorn and Ceci Flanagan-Snow, both of whom I interviewed in 2009 for an article titled ‘But I Paid The Photographer! What Do You Mean I Don’t Own The Photo?‘ That article received an award at the 2010 American Horse Publications annual conference in 2010, and lots of chuckles from the audience when the title was announced. Thanks, ladies, for sharing your thoughts and knowledge with me!


Also – My apologies to the photog who told me a version of the ‘little Davey’ story above – if you read this and it’s you who told me, pls remind me and I’ll include a link to your site, too! 

Have you seen copyright violations in the horse world? Share your thoughts via the Leave a Comment link below. See you here next Friday for 52 Fridays #22!

Read other posts about photography by clicking on the Sort Posts By Topic dropdown menu to the right and selecting the Photography category, or you can select 52 Fridays to read posts #1 through #20.


Filed under 52 Fridays, Equine Industry Marketing, Photography, Uncategorized

7 responses to “52 Fridays – #21 When Photographs Aren’t Free

  1. Nan

    I once had an acquaintance show me these great photos of her eventer that were taken a few years earlier. they were scanned copies of my own photos I’d shot at a horse trials — a couple of years earlier. Talk about embarrassed, the gal, who remains a friend, was mortified. I was gracious about it. But she didn’t offer to pay for the photo. We pros deal with infringement day in and day out. Its seems to be difficult for customers to understand that just because they buy the print, that doesn’t give them rights to the image. Two very separate things…

    • Thanks, Nan, that’s a great example! I think many ‘service’ professionals (as opposed to product-oriented businesses) face this kind of issue. I hope many more will comment on this, on both sides of the issue, because it’d be great to get some dialogue going and hopefully greater understanding. Thanks for sharing your experience. LK

  2. Thank you for writing, publishing and disseminating this informative article! It should be required reading for all competitors, competitors’ moms, grandmoms, aunties and friends.

    People just don’t get it. Taking a copy of a photograph without paying for the privilege OR at least having the photographer’s permission is theft – plain and simple. Would you come into my home and steal my belongings? Probably not. So why do people feel it’s ok to steal my work product – images carefully crafted using expensive equipment – cameras and computers and software – without compensation? What about the studying I did to learn how to create those images? That cost money. And the constant upgrades to both hardware and software? How about my time? The endless hours at ringside?

    I did a show two weeks ago and figured out that, including after print sales, I averaged $7.50 an hour. I could make more money flipping burgers at McDonald’s! I and my colleagues aren’t trying to get rich – we’re trying to run businesses that are at least profitable enough to be self sustaining.

    Think about that next time you hit ‘copy’ for an image to which you don’t have the rights.

  3. Oh – and I don’t me “you” Lisa – I mean YOU – the person who helps themselves – just in case it wasn’t clear in my rant. 🙂

    • Thanks, Ceci, for sharing your example of sub-minimum wage results once you factored in your time and revenues – that’s certainly eye-opening.

      I’m thinking that in many situations, people probably just aren’t aware of all the effort, time, and expense that goes into professional photography – especially when pros make it all look so easy AND produce great images. But as I’ve been working on improving my own skills and upgrading my own equipment (my favorite lens was a mere $800 dollars!), I’ve also gained new appreciation for what pro equine photographers are able to achieve, and what they do to get those spectacular images.

      From a marketing and PR view, any time there’s lack of knowledge in the target customer market, I look at it as an educational opportunity. I’d ask ‘what could pro photogs do differently in their marketing?’ It’s a question worth pondering.

      Thanks for taking the time to share!! LK

  4. Hi Lisa,

    Great introductory article about copyright infringement. I’m not sure if you’ve already written about this, but I think a great follow up would be to discuss the etiquette of commercial use of photos after appropriate copyrights and terms of use have been paid for. I’ve been meaning to do a post on it myself, but I’m swamped at work!

    As a PR pro and a moonlighting journalist, I’m incredibly annoyed when people don’t understand the basics of working with reporters. For example, when it comes to photos:

    – Make sure they’re at least 300 dpi, hi-res and 4x6in.
    – Only provide images that you have the right to use
    – Include a caption
    – Provide credit information.

    Don’t assume I know if a photo was taken by you, the business owner, or by a professional photographer. Oh, and once it’s in my hands, you can’t dictate when and how I use it! And, if I do use it, be grateful! Nothing makes me want to scratch you off my sources list than whining.

    The bottom line is: Please. Help Me Help You! Make my job easy because more often than not, if you’re nice and professional, I’ll keep coming back to you for future articles.


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