Dear Photographer: Is Appropriating Someone Else’s Images Breaching Copyright?

I am working on a new series which involves using advertising images that I find online and changing them by adding my own images to them. The images are still recognizable and I didn’t ask permission. Am I breaching copyright?—Anonymous

‘Dear Photographer’ is a new section where readers can ask advice and/or questions of the Feature Shoot audience to be answered via comments on the post. Please send questions for consideration to [email protected] with Dear Photographer in the subject line.

  • Copyright Questions are always tough questions.
    In Photography it is not that common to alter (or remix) an original image as it is for instance in music (especially in electronic music such as techno / house). I guess the rule will forbid your action, but the internet culture in which we live will promote such actions.

    No clear answer, sorry for that, just trying to express some of my thoughts.

  • Look for photos that have creative commons licenses. Be vigilant and don’t infringe on copyrights. Never assume that because an image is posted on the Internet or in print it is free for the taking.

  • You are going to want to look into Richard Prince. His whole career is based on the appropriation of other people’s photography. The “internet culture” has no bearing on the law and your use of other people’s work.

  • anonymous

    Do we think it boils down to personal ethics?

  • Erik

    Appropriation art is all about what will be traditionally seen as copyright violation. Saying you should use Creative Commons images is useless, since if you’re working with advertising those images will never be CC licenced. You could look at Richard Prince, yes, and see that he got in trouble when his work wasn’t commenting on the images he appropriated. If your work is commenting on advertising, it should be OK as fair use. In the end you might still have to go to court to defend the work – but you’d have the backing of the art world.

  • As someone who has had her own images stolen over and over again, I say that yes, it is copyright infringement. If I know of someone who uses my images without permission, no matter how artistic the intention is (my work has its own artistic intent — which, by my request, should never be modified), I will do my best to report them in whatever website they’re posting, or sue them if the volume or value of the theft justifies it.

    Taking someone’s work without consent is always copyright infringement. Altering it is even worse, in my opinion. Just search for images that are free for use or contact the artist — many of us don’t mind having their work changed.

  • Alison Zavos
  • Seaside_Mike

    Using someone elses finished product,
    without permission or payment is just bad manners.
    Changing it to suit yourself and then passing it off as your own,
    thats breach of copyright.
    Thats what copyright, patents and trade marks
    were developed to Stop.
    Be it artistic or mechanical, if you use it for generating income,
    you breach the Trust of the creator/developer to at least
    Ask if not Pay for permission and recognition of their effort.
    If I took a marker pen to your montage and sold it as my own work ,
    I would expect to be asked about the original underneath,
    and would accept that many would be upset that I
    had no permission to use or deface someone elses work.

  • I suggest you take a History of Photography class. Or Google Sherrie Levine. It will be instructive from a postmodern perspective. Then Google Jeff Koons copyright infringement. It will be instructive from s copyright perspective. I am both a photographer and a lawyer. 🙂

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