Use of Picture Cost City of Aiken

Editorial by David Kellin,

State Article

The story I reference can be read via the link above. Below is an article about an amateur photographer and a picture of Trump


The town of Aiken recently settled a lawsuit with a photographer for over $6000 for unauthorized use of an Instagram photo of Santa from a parade in Aiken.

The issue of use of photos is a contentious thing recently. The Internet is stock full of images, and they are shared and forwarded with little to no thought to the creator. Giving photo credit is felt to be enough to satisfy the photographer. The facts are vastly different.

Current copyright law gives the photographer copyright over their work the moment they take the picture. Each and every photo taken is owned by the photographer and they have rights to it’s use. Posting on internet, does not release those rights. 

The person or people photographed, if in public and not in a location that an expectation of privacy is expected, have no cause to prohibit a picture, and no rights to the picture. If you are waking down the street, you can be photographed legally. 

The interface between photographers and those photographed is a delicate balance. A great many photographers are very respectful of requests and will grant privacy if asked. Photographers have respect for others. 

Occasionally, I see a Facebook post or rant about not removing watermarks or not to steal pictures. Often these are new photographers that want to establish themselves. The photographers that we recognize as experts and the ultimate professionals don’t use much in terms of watermarks. They have made their photographs so recognizable, that we all recognize the photographer’s style. 

Pictures are going to be taken off the internet and kept. It is a fact. If you post a picture it is likely to be taken by someone, and social media has the methods to stop or slow it down, but doesn’t. 

The situation in Aiken may seem innocent and not a big deal on the surface. The town copied a picture from the photographer’s Instagram and used it on their website to prompt the coming Christmas event. What is the harm? 

It is the differences between personal , editorial and commercial use.  If I take a picture of a beautiful sunset and post on Instagram, it is a personal use. I am sharing it on a personal basis. If I take a picture at the basketball game, I can send to the newspaper to share it as a news item. I do not have to gain a photo release from the people depicted as it is of editorial use. 

When a picture is used to PROMOTE something, a photo release of those depicted is required. My common example is if I take a picture of a ball player and then use it to promote dog food, I need a release. The City of Aiken used the picture to promote their event. 

My suspicion is that if the Town officials had contacted the photographer, a use could have been arranged. Asking permission is often all that is needed.  From the story, it appears that Town Officials just took the picture and appropriated it to their use. 

I feel bad that it ended in a lawsuit for the Town of Aiken, for now the atmosphere of collaboration will be more difficult. It needs to be a lesson for each of us. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. Ask for what we need and not just take things. Two values we seems to have lost in the internet age. 

Categories: Editor Thoughts

1 reply

  1. Fair and well explained. Thanks David


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