You have a photograph in hand, but do you know who took the picture? When was it taken? Are there any markings on it?
Photographs fall under the same rules as other copyrighted materials. You own the copyright to pictures you take. You might not own the copyright to pictures taken of you. Unless the photographer gives you copyright you do not have the right to post your wedding pictures, your school pictures, your baby pictures and more. Well for most of us, our baby pictures, unless there is a photographer imprint on the back, are probably safe.
So what are the rules?
1. If the picture was taken after 1989 (consider it published for simplicity sake at the time a copy was given to anyone) then the photographer and his heirs own copyright for 70 years after his death.
2. The photographer can assign his copyright to anyone including someone who contracts his services, but if there is no statement of that fact then he retains the copyright. This rule affects wedding, school and other pictures taken by professionals.
3. If the picture was taken before 1 Mar 1989 and after 1923 it might be in copyright, but it would require a copyright notice on the picture at the very least. (For an easy to follow chart showing the terms of copyright follow the link to Cornell University’s copyright website on this page)
4. However, that notice could be on another copy of the picture so err on the side of caution if it is a picture of someone famous or taken by a famous photographer.
5. Ownership of a photograph does not give you copyright. Remember there can be multiple copies of the same picture, so although you can try to restrict use of a photo you have in hand, you would have to be able to prove that any use actually came from your copy.
6. If you digitize a photograph that is out of copyright you will hold a copyright to that digital image. If someone downloads that digital image and uses it on their website or in a digital publication they have violated your copyright. However, if someone prints the picture and then uses that in a subsequent publication they have not violated your copyright. You hold no copyright to the original picture. Once an photograph is in the Public Domain it remains there.
When you post content online, do you read the fine print? Are you giving up rights to your material? Following are snippets from two very recognizable websites…….
Sharing Your Content and Information
FACEBOOK — “You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition:
- For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it
- When you publish content or information using the Public setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).
- We always appreciate your feedback or other suggestions about Facebook, but you understand that we may use them without any obligation to compensate you for them (just as you have no obligation to offer them).”
ANCESTRY – “Portions of the Service will contain user provided content, to which you may contribute appropriate content. For this content, Ancestry is a distributor only. By submitting content to Ancestry, you grant Ancestry, the corporate host of the Service, a license to the content to use, host, distribute that Content and allow hosting and distribution of that Content, to the extent and in that form or context we deem appropriate. Should you contribute content to the site, you understand that it will be seen and used by others under the license described herein. You should submit only content which belongs to you and will not violate the property or other rights of other people or organizations. Ancestry is sensitive to the copyright of others…..”
So, if you publicly post on Facebook or Ancestry you have given both the hosts and their users the rights to use your materials. If that is not your intention then you should not post. It is important to read the fine print before contributing to any website.
Pay attention to the sentence in Ancestry’s policy that states, “You should only submit content that belongs to you and will not violate the property or other rights of other people or organizations.” Be sure you have permission to include photographs and other materials that weren’t created by you.
It’s a wonderful age, one where we can easily share with our newly found cousins, we all need to be aware of the rights of others and tread carefully through the world of intellectual property.