So what do photographers mean when they talk about “commercial use”?

When something is commercial its about making money right?  So a photographer who makes money from pictures is using them commercially right?  So thats commercial use right?

Uh No.

Following on from last weeks post  about the common idea many people have that permission is needed to take their photograph in the first place this post is about what can and cannot be done with that photograph without permission and it all revolves around what is known as “commercial use” – something which is also commonly misunderstood.

In a nutshell the only time I or any other photographer needs permission from the subject of a photograph (or their legal parent/guardian in the case of children) to use that photograph is if that photograph is going to be used commerically to sell or imply something.

What does this mean in practical terms?  If I take your photo I do not need your permission to;

  • enter the photo to competitions to win prizes
  • put the photo in an exhibition where I am paid to provide the photo
  • sell a copy of the photo to you
  • sell a copy of the photo to another person for private use
  • sell a copy of the photo to a newspaper to include in the news
  • sell a copy of the photo for inclusion in a factual book or on a website for purely illustrative purposes
  • display the photograph as an example of my work

So what is permission needed for – what is “commerical use”?

Commercial use is using the photograph to sell or imply something.  So if someone takes a photograph of you drinking a famous brand soft drink – they cannot sell the picture of you to the manufacturer of said soft drink for them to use as advertising unless you give permission – for which you may ask a fee to provide.  Nor can someone sell a picture of you in ordinary clothes in an ordinary every day situation to be used illustrating an article on say supporters of a particular political party because the inclusion of the photo would imply you are such a supporter.  Again if the article writer wanted to use the picture the photographer would have to get your permission – for which again you could charge a fee.

The rules on implication can also affect entering photos in competitions or putting them in exhibitions.  Any title given to a photo in a competition or exhibition must not make an untrue claim or suggestion or be defamatory.  For instance if there is someone asleep on a park bench with an empty beer bottle beside them can be titled “Person asleep on bench next to beer bottle” but should not be entitled “Drunk asleep on bench” as claiming the person was drunk is defamatory and may be untrue.

Currently I do not do any commercial work – all my photographs of people are news/editorial or illustrative.



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