Need help with copyright & licensing issue


TPF Noob!
Feb 18, 2016
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Can others edit my Photos
Photos NOT OK to edit
Hi all,

So I took pictures at a sport event, basically it's the only freebie I do (did), because of my love for the sport (and I do the sport myself). Recently I found out that my photos are being used in promotional materials to promote the upcoming event next month without my permission and proper license. The organiser and I have never had any agreements of payment. He just wanted someone to take pictures so that everyone involved have something to show, and as far as I'm aware, the people who took pictures in the past are usually not paid, and they'd sell the pictures after the event to the participants. I've stated that I own the copyright and reserved all rights, and the photos available to the public are online resolution with watermark on them, and the photos are available for personal, non-commercial, and non-promotional use. I know the participants would download their photos anyway and put them on their facebook page, etc even with the watermark. But I stated that if they wish to order a print quality and/or photos without the watermark, then they need to contact me and make an order. I have not issued any high res version of the photos used in the promotional materials to anyone, so I know for sure they edited the photo which in doing so removed the watermark.

Last year I've decided that I will stop doing freebies as the event though is small in scale compared to other sporting events, is getting bigger, demands for photos are getting higher, not many of the participants actually order for high-res photos, and that I'm getting busy with my paid work (which of course, is my top priority). But I'm feeling very disappointed that they didn't have the decency to at least ask me if they could use my photos for it, considering that they know me personally, know where to find me and have my contact details.

To my understanding, the copyright to the photos I took belongs to me since there is no agreement in place that says otherwise, and I was not commissioned to take pictures at the said event. I have drafted up an email asking the organiser to remove my pictures from the materials, but my question is whether or not I can issue a license for promotional use (provided he has secured all other necessary releases and permissions) at a cost? I have checked posters and programs of the event for fine prints that would prevent me from selling pictures for this purpose, but there's none, and the pass that I get for this event doesn't have any fine prints either. Any advice would be very much appreciated.

Thanks for your help.
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Since copyright varies (often drastically) by nation, without knowing where you are, it's hard to give any sort of meanginful advice. Clearly, there are a number of issues here, and the first one that comes to my mind, is how did the organizers actually get your images? If you gave them the images without expressing any limitations, they may be able to make a case for implied consent. I'm also curious as to how you've stated your usage reservations.

In most western countries, you as the photographer would indeed retain the copyright to the images, and could insist on a license fee, BUT... there are other considerations: Doing that after the fact often leads to 'bad blood' and if you want to be involved in this group in the future, it might be worth reducing your expectations.

All of that said, legal advice should always come from a lawyer, not some random guy on an Internet forum.
Yep. An online photography forum is a poor place to be seeking legal advice.
Consult a qualified attorney where ever it is you are.
Sounds like you gave the event organizer the photos. So even though you have the copyright of any photos you take, it doesn't sound like you licensed usage. So now you know you need to learn how to license usage of any photos you provide.

I don't think it works to provide the photos and expect anything without having a contract/written terms of use. If the event organizer is going to be using the photos for marketing purposes you need to license usage and get that in writing before you take the pictures (and if it's for their marketing purposes you probably should be compensated).

If they allowed you to take photos for the purpose of selling prints to fans/attendees at the events/games, that doesn't seem like you're taking photos for the organization - so they wouldn't necessarily be paying you or contracting with you to take photos for them I don't think - so they should not be using the photos. But you shouldn't have given them your photos if the reason you were taking pictures was to sell to fans.

At least that's my understanding of it, but get informed, try American Society of Media Photographers or PPA for info. on contracts, licensing usage, etc.

edit - Maybe you need to clarify the purpose of being issued a pass. In my experience with local lower level sports often the compensation is in free season tickets for people who work game nights doing stats, etc. Which seems to be a fair exchange for those who want to attend games free and enjoy being at the scorer's table instead of sitting in regular seats. Other jobs like working concessions are paid because those workers are not able to watch the game while they work and have other duties like stocking and preparing food, etc.
Thank you for the reply. I'm in NZ.

I never gave the organisers my images. The organisers got my images from my website, which have the watermarks on them (but was removed once edited and put into the promotional material by whoever is doing the promotional materials). I just stated that the copyright belongs to me and all rights reserved, then added that the photos are only for personal, non-commercial, and non-promotional use. And for anyone who ordered the photos from me I gave them personal license to use it. The people who ordered are mainly the people involved in the event (the athletes), or their family/friends, and they're generally are pretty good about it, usually asking if it's okay to use on certain things etc...

I've issued an editorial license for local news site, but that's about it, this particular organiser never asked for my pictures, and I haven't received any orders for any of the photos that appeared in their promotional materials, so the only version they could have gotten their hands on are the watermarked version which are on my website.

I know now that I really should have an agreement. Back then I was doing it as a hobby, and I was taking pictures from audience seat (I did ask if I'm allowed, btw, and they said yes) until someone noticed my pictures and liked them, and it went from there. I'm still learning the ins and outs about photography copyrights and licensing.

There used to be other photographers who did it with me, but one stopped doing it a couple of years ago, from what I heard is because people just ripped his photos from his website instead of asking him for permission and buy the unwatermarked version of the photos. One still occasionally takes pictures but not so much anymore, the same thing happened to him, and when the people who used his images were approached, they turned around to him saying something along the lines of "Oh c'mon... We're doing it for the same reason, right?" (for the love of the sport).

I actually never intended to license the images for promotional use, but I'm just wondering if I can so I can give the organisers options.

Thank you, I'll look at seeing someone for legal advice locally.
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Update: got legal advice. I was informed that I'm on the right track and will proceed with requesting for the images to be removed as planned.

Thank you for your help and advices.

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