Personal Photos Copyright Laws

By Cindy Hill

The development of inexpensive digital cameras and cameras incorporated into cell phones has placed personal photography within reach of just about everyone. Like other creative works, photographs are protected by the intellectual property law called copyright from the moment they are taken. Copyright protection for personal photos is limited by the privacy and publicity rights of the individuals in the photos and the legal rights of anyone purchasing a license to use a picture.

Copyright Registration

Copyright protection attaches to a creative work the moment it stops being just an idea and becomes fixed into some tangible object like a digital file or piece of paper. Copyright law gives the owner the exclusive right to publish, reproduce, sell or alter his creative work, such as a photograph. Enforcing copyright is easier if the owner registers the photograph, or other work such as a piece of writing or painting, with the U.S. Copyright Office. Registering the copyright of a personal photograph can be done through an online filing. A filing fee is necessary, but photographers can group sets of photographs together as a collection and pay one filing fee for the whole set.

Privacy and Publicity

Copyright laws are intended to encourage people to become creative and generate vibrant new artistic and literary works, but copyright does not convey a right to photograph anything you like. Photographers, including amateur personal photographers, can legally photograph public places unless prohibited by national security laws, but laws protecting privacy preclude taking or publishing photos of private property without the owner's permission. People also have a right of publicity, which means that a photographer can not publish a photo containing recognizable images of people, other than in conjunction with a news story, without getting their permission. Placing personal photos where they can be viewed by others, such as on a social networking web page, constitutes publication. Photographers should get written permission from the people appearing in photos before publishing them, according to the American Society of Media Photographers.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now

Photographing Copyrighted Works

Since copyright laws give the owner the exclusive right to duplicate the copyrighted work, photographers can not legally photograph materials protected by copyright law unless they have the copyright owner's permission or the photograph meets the copyright law exemptions for "fair use." A personal photograph of a copyrighted work like a painting, sculpture or another photograph may meet the fair-use exemption if it is for purposes of academic study or criticism, or strictly for personal use such as photographing artwork for an insurance inventory.


A copyright owner can give other people permission to use her creative works by granting a license for that use. Amateur photographers can generate income from their hobby by licensing photos through a wide variety of online stock photo banks, or through private licensing agreements. Photo banks or private clients who purchase a license to use a photograph will usually request a signed model's release or property release for every identifiable person or piece of private property depicted in the photo, according to the American Society of Media Photographers. The license for use of a photograph can be a general or blanket license allowing the license holder to use the picture however he wants, or it can be limited to a specific use or publication.

Protect against infringement by registering a copyright. Get Started Now
DVD Copyright Rules


Related articles

DMCA Backup of Copyrighted Content

You want to make a backup copy of a DVD that you bought. The DVD is copyright protected, and the copyright holder has encrypted the DVD to prevent you from making a copy. In the U.S., under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, if you hack or crack the security measures of a copyrighted work to make your copy, you are violating the law and can be sued.

Are Commercials Copyrighted?

With the free accessibility of information and creative content over the Internet, it can be hard to know what is legally available to take and enjoy for free. It can be confusing to realize that something that may be free and legal to enjoy in one context may not be in another context. Most people think of commercials as a free bit of advertising that they are subjected to when they watch television or listen to the radio. Just because a commercial is broadcast for free through certain media does not mean that it is legal for anybody to upload the commercial on YouTube or post it for download on a website. Commercials are copyrighted, and only authorized parties may broadcast, copy or distribute them.

Legal Use of the Disney Characters

Walt Disney and the Disney group of companies have created some of the most memorable fictional characters in contemporary culture. Twenty-first century characters such as Nemo the clownfish are as beloved as classic characters such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Individuals who wish to use the Disney characters should take care to make legal use of them to avoid infringing Disney's intellectual property rights.


Related articles

How to Copyright Choreography

A copyright affords protection to creators and owners of unique intellectual property that is fixed in some permanent, ...

Copyright Laws & Video Games

Video games form the heart of a vital economic industry that relies on the creativity of game designers and innovative ...

Can Students Draw a Cartoon Character or Is It Copyrighted?

The laws of copyright protect original created works, including graphic images such as cartoon characters. Any person ...

How to Avoid Copyright Infringement When Writing a Book

When writing a book, fiction or nonfiction, you are probably focused on the art of writing, but copyright infringement ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED