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Is it allowed to edit images marked as editorial on stock photography sites? The main content of the photo is a building and I just want to remove distracting elements like drainage wells and trashcans, which in a way ruin the composition.

closed as too broad by xenoid, Hueco, xiota, Michael C, inkista Aug 27 at 19:09

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The type of image makes no difference as to whether you can edit it. That will be determined by the terms of contract when you purchased the image.

First, you would have to be granted the right to make copies. Then the edits would have to be minor so as to only be considered an edited copy and not a derivative work/copy. Or you would have to be also granted the right to make derivative copies.

Or the edits would have to be so significant, and the usage of the image so minor in terms of the overall new work for it to be considered fair use (as an element in your own new work, which would qualify for its' own copyright protections).

There is a third copyright consideration of the edits being considered harmful/detrimental to the original author... under EU/UK laws that is an automatic "moral rights" protection. In the U.S. it only applies to limited editions of less than 200 copies/prints (VARA).

The wording/terms I used are somewhat specific to US copyright laws, but the concepts apply pretty uniformally among all parties of the Berne Convention.

Edited to add: There is no such thing as an "editorial image," there is only editorial usage of an image... an image labeled as editorial indicates the acceptable/licensed usage. It generally means that they do not have the rights/waivers required/transferable to you for commercial (advertising) type usage of the image. I.e. a property release.

The funny thing there is that the use of the photo may not actually require a property release; but since you've purchased the image with the understanding/contractual restriction of editorial use only, you still can't use it commercially.

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Probably. Read the license terms offered by the stock photography site. They will say — and will not always be the same, even from the same site.

Stock photography sites usually have their own legalese, but by way of example, consider these three different Creative Commons licenses:

Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY-ND)

Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format for any purpose, even commercially.

but

No Derivatives — If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you may not distribute the modified material.

This license allows you to redistribute, and the fine print on "no derivatives" clarifies that you can change format without creating a derivative under the terms. But you couldn't "remove distractions" or anyhting like that.

Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY)

Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format

Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially.

This one doesn't have the "no derivatives" restriction, and explicitly allows adaptations.

Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY-SA)

Share — copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format

Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially.

but

Share Alike — If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original.

In this case, you can make the modifications you want, but there is an addition wrinkle.

Non–open-content licenses may have similar terms and restrictions. If it's not clearly stated in plain language, you may want to consult with a lawyer.

  • The interesting question would be, for publishing online: Would obscuring the distraction with another layered-on image be distributing a modified version? :) – rackandboneman Aug 12 at 15:48
  • @rackandboneman That is very arguably a derived work. The CC site has some guidance on that, but I think ultimately it would come down to the courts. Better to stay clear and only use images where you have modification rights if you want to do anything but present them in their entirity. – mattdm Aug 12 at 15:51
  • Devils advocate: You'd cause the viewer's PC to derive the work, framing that person :) – rackandboneman Aug 12 at 15:54
  • Generally I would expect a court to take a dim view of that argument. Intention matters. – mattdm Aug 12 at 15:55
  • At the very least that would be creating a copy... so you would have to at least have the right to make copies. – Steven Kersting Aug 12 at 20:38

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