Photos on the Web: Copyright Woes

Photos on the Web: Copyright Woes

If you've ever tried to copy a family photo at a store or photo lab and been denied due to copyright issues, there's an article you might be interested in. On July 19, the New York Times published an article about photos on Wikipedia, "Wikipedia May Be a Font of...

If you’ve ever tried to copy a family photo at a store or photo lab and been denied due to copyright issues, there’s an article you might be interested in.

On July 19, the New York Times published an article about photos on Wikipedia, “Wikipedia May Be a Font of Facts but It’s a Desert for Photos.”

If you’ve used this vast internet archive of user-contributed material, you know the picture quality/quantity is iffy. That’s because these are “unofficial” photos anyone can use. According to the article, the site uses a “Creative Commons license, which allows anyone to use an image, for commercial purposes or not, as long as the photographer is credited.” It’s a bit more complicated, but the article explains it.

There are legal and common-sense rules relating to photo usage. Basically, the store with the photo kiosk denied you the right to copy your picture because the photographer holds the reproduction rights for it. Even if the photographer is deceased or you don’t know who it was, as for an old family portrait, the store might decide it doesn’t want to take the chance.

A handy guide for when you need formal permission to use an image appears in Sharon DeBartolo Carmack’s Carmack’s Guide to Copyright & Contracts: A Pricer for Genealogists, Writers & Researchers (GPC, $15.95)

Here’s a common sense rule for internet usage of family photos. If you want to post a photo of a living family member on your Web site or FaceBook page, make sure you have that person’s permission, too. It’s a common courtesy.

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  1. I’ve never had this problem. I’ve had them copy school photos and all kinds of heritage photos. I always do say I’m scrapbooking it and need a copy.

    Of course now that I’ve written that I suppose no one will copy a thing for me again!

  2. Walmart is famous for this. I’ve sent photos to be printed online, only to go pick them up, and they refuse to give them to me because they are professional portraits. I’ve explained that they were taken in 1908 and everyone in the photo is dead! To solve the problem, I take ownership of the photos by signing that they are mine. It’s just a real pain!