I have run an "on the side" mail-order high-end photo printing business for a couple of years now, and have printed all sorts. I have considered this before and have drawn up my own conclusions, and I have never had any real issues (Other than rejecting the odd job)

So my question is - who's responsibility is it to check copyright?

The "customer" commissions the "work" (the print) , I simply supply the "service" of putting the work onto paper. The "Work" then (once paid) becomes the property of the "artist" and they do whatever they want with it.

Am I Legally obliged to ask for copyright ownership or royalty agreement proof, or is this purely on the artist's shoulders?

  • \$\begingroup\$ This question is not about photography and is primarily opinion...legal opinion which will vary across jurisdictions and does not have an objective answer nor lend itself to broadly applicable expert opinions based on knowledge of photography. \$\endgroup\$
    – user50888
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 12:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do we need a wiki question for generic legal advice? Like "will lens brand x fit on camera brand y?" \$\endgroup\$
    – user50888
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 13:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ You do realise I asked this 5 years ago, don't you? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 13:18
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @benrudgers I don't think a wiki-style question for generic legal advice would work at all. every legal question is replete with all sorts of little details that matter greatly, and the differences in those details are supremely important. Whereas, "lens brand X on camera brand Y" (or other similar placeholder question) is merely a matter of replacing X and Y. \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 15:21
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @benrudgers Perhaps. Legal questions are certainly some of the most awkward ducks here, as compared to the optics / physics / numbers-based questions. But legal issues are of interest to photographers, so as a group, they do have a place here. And really, all law questions, except cited case law, is to some degree speculation. \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 18:47

2 Answers 2


Put yourself through a hypothetical scenario:

Someone sues you for printing copyrighted material. As you stand in court do you want to explain that it's not your responsibility to check or that you checked and were provided with some kind of documentation that said you were permitted to do it (I would argue that I can't be expected to validate the legitimacy of every document that is shown to me, provided it looks legitimate on its face)? It's a CYA thing so even if technically you don't have to, you probably should.

Also, this is a great question for a lawyer. If someone says that it's not your responsibility and you end up in court anyway you want to be able to tell the judge "your lawyer said you didn't have to" and not "some internet community poster with no credentials to speak of told me I didn't have to."

  • \$\begingroup\$ Its a complex one isn't it... another example is I often create brochures for clients, in which I use stock photography, which would come under the exact same copyright ownership / reproduction rights. I have never once been asked to provide proof that I have paid for the stock imagery (I always do), or have rights to the images within the brochure. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 12:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the second paragraph (would upvote more if that were possible!) this sort of thing could have huge implications for your business - I would recommend professional legal advice, tailored to your local/national laws. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 13:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Indeed, its unlikely to happen, but the $h1t always hits the fan when you least expect it to! - I was going to wave the "I cant afford to ask a lawyer" card, but then remembered that im a member of the FSB (Federation of small businesses) - who supply free legal advice to their members :-) - ETA: I intentionally didnt publish my actual policy in the original question just to see what the general feeling was- My actual terms state that I have the right to ask for proof of right to reproduce, which I rarely need to, but if someone orders 10 copies of the Mona Lisa then alarm bells would kick in! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 14:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Have a +1 anyway :-) - however its not an answer, so cant mark as such. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 16:14

This is very much a solved problem. You put it in your terms of service that it's the client's responsibility to ensure that copyright laws are adhered to. Your terms need to be drawn up by a lawyer so that the wording is correct for your jurisdiction and it should be regularly reviewed.

Most existing printing services have similar stipulations and I found a couple quite easily.

User shall ensure that his/her User Content, and his/her and our use of it, does not:

  • infringe anyone’s copyright; in particular, you must ensure that you either own the copyright in an Image that you upload to Photobox or that you are fully licensed by the copyright owner to upload the Image and to make any subsequent use of it (such as by including the Image in a Product) or in email and postal communications we send to you);

Source: Photobox (UK) Terms of Use, Section 5

Or for an example from a US company...

Users of the Service, whether or not Members, may not use the Service to Process “Prohibited Content.” Generally, Prohibited Content includes Content or other material that Snapfish believes:

  1. Is abusive, deceptive, pornographic, obscene, defamatory, slanderous, offensive, or otherwise inappropriate;
  2. Consists of copyrighted material used without the express permission of the owner or material that has been altered so that the copyright, trademark or other proprietary notice is removed;

Source: Snapfish.com Terms and Conditions, Section 3

  • \$\begingroup\$ I am not a lawyer. As I understand common law, the suggested language does not remove civil and/or criminal liability from the printer. Instead it possibly provides civil recourse for the printer against the customer in cases similar to a rights holder suing the printer for copyright violation. And to be clear, a rights holder will be ex parte to the contract between printer and customer. It is also worth noting that a common circumstance would be that the customer has less ability to pay than the printer and that limits the value of such terms and conditions. I am not a lawyer. \$\endgroup\$
    – user50888
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 12:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @benrudgers - I wrote neither of those, but you can bet your backside that some (very expensive) lawyers in those jurisdictions have at very least have reviewed the language on them. So while you're not a lawyer, the people those sections are sourced from definitely are (and obviously the OP ought to engage his own.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 22:24

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