I wish I had just 10p for every time I heard this statement or a variation of it.

It would be really easy to think that any photo you’ve bought from a photographer you could then do whatever you like with it. That’s really NOT the case and you could wind up in some pretty hot water with the photographer as a result.


“Surely that can’t be right, you are now thinking?  I bought that photo fair and square, I even paid good money for it in my eyes.  It features me and I have it in my possession, so what’s stopping me from having that photo edited in some way or using it for a project I have in mind?”

It’s a common misconception and here are just a few of the typical examples that crop up when people get into varying degrees of trouble with the original photographer.

I want to add that photo to be used by an artist as a reference photo for a painting.
I want to send that photo to a 3rd party to be digitally changed in some way (maybe a background change or removal of an object).
I want to use that photo to advertise my horse for sale, or my business, or to attract sponsorship in some way.
I want to use it in a competition to win something.
I want to send it to a brand because you can see their product in it.

First things, the photo doesn’t ‘belong’ to you as the purchaser, it still belongs to the person who pressed the shutter button on the camera (or phone etc).  That person, whether it was a photo taken on their own camera or someone else’s, physically owns the copyright to that photo.  They will do until at least 70 years after their death.  It matters not if there is any king of copyright text on the photo or otherwise.  Copyright Law is clear on this.

What you have purchased is a ‘Right to use that photo’ and in 99 times out of 100, that ‘Righ’t is for Personal Use only.  So you can display it in your home or frame it and send it to your Granny as a present for example.  Depending on the photographer you may even have to seek permission to put a copy of that photo online to show your friends through the power of social media.  Most times today though that’s a given with a huge number of photographers BUT legally, you should check first, never assume.

The second you start to adapt that photo.  Add a filter, crop it, have it digital enhanced, use it to create something else then you are in rough water.  Again, you need to check with the photographer first one what can or can’t be done as you are amending their creative work.

Currently there’s a lot of photographs, particularly in the animal photography, being adapted by a 3rd party to create a new image.  In the horse world we have started to see montages being created where the horse is taken out of it’s original setting and placed in a blended black background with a number of other pictures.  They can look amazing, but actually this isn’t legal.  Should the original photographer see one and dislike what has happened to their original piece of artwork then they can pursue a claim.  Many will too.  You may have a copy of the photo, whether it was commissioned or otherwise, but doesn’t mean you are legally entitled to give permission to a 3rd party to amend that work.  That 3rd party, if they are at all credible, will point this out to you too.

Again, if you ask the original photographer they may be 100% OK with what you are proposing, or they may request an additional fee for their work to be used in this way.  Please don’t feel aggrieved if this is the result, they are fully within their rights to request this.  They might also send you a contract that outlines what can and can’t be done with that image too.  It’s normal practice.

The same applies if you are going to ‘gain’ anything (be it financially or in kind) if you use that photo for something.  Selling a horse or dog is a prime case of that.  Most photographers will be very happy to permit the use of the photo for this reason but you will be required to pay a ‘Commercial Use’ license to do so.  It may be a one time agreement or the photographer may permit you to use that image on a permanent basis.  Let’s say for example you are an Event Rider and you want to use that photo on your website to show your potential sponsors or owners that you are the right rider for their brand or horse, either way there will likely be a fee to pay, which may vary depending on the circumstances but lets be fair here, if the photographers great shot is deserving enough to be used by you in this way, for your own gain, you should be understanding of their legal stand point too.

You are also not authorised to allow a 3rd party to use it to promote themselves – for example there is a product being worn by you or your horse in the photo made by Brand X – Brand X are not allowed to ask you or to just take and use that photo to promote their product or Brand.  If you are ever approached by a Brand for something like this please always refer them back to the photographer to discuss the options.

On the whole a HUGE number of photographers may be utterly delighted that you use their photos in a one way or another in a personal way, but I would urge you 100% to check BEFORE you go ahead.

If you don’t, you could land yourself with a rather hefty invoice, many many times more than you original paid… As could any 3rd party seen to capitalise directly too.

Until next time…

Rachel xx